Coconut is one of the closest things to a cure-all elixir in the health world. The liquid can moisturize skin and hair, boost immunity, and bust colds. Swishing it in your mouth (called oil pulling, an ancient Ayurvedic technique) has been enthusiastically adopted in some (but not all) circles to promote oral health. Nutritionists go nuts for its particular type of fat, called lauric acid, a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) that’s loaded with health benefits. (Coconut oil’s MCTs are also valued for what they don’t do, namely clog arteries or cause inflammation,) Some even believe it can even help your eyelashes grow. And many believe it to be a great sleep aid.
Now, fats and oils are classified in two ways: by their saturation type (saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated) and by their molecular size — the length of their carbon chain. We need essential fatty acids for a host of reasons, among them to support healthy brain and immune-system function, for the formation of nerve cells, and the production of hormones and cellular energy.
There are three lengths of fatty acids: short-chain, medium-chain, and long-chain. Long-chain fatty acids (LCTs), found in olive oil, fish, nuts, avocado, meat, and fish, metabolize slowly and are the type of fat we store in our bodies.
So, by helping to regulate your hormone production, coconut oil can, indirectly, encourage better sleep.
The medium-chain fatty acids found in coconut oil, on the other hand, are metabolized more quickly than other fats. MCTs head straight from the digestive tract to the liver and are rapidly metabolized and used for energy. In this way, they function more like carbohydrates than like other fats.
So what does this have to do with sleep?
Coconut products, including coconut oil, are more likely to give you a boost. In fact, according to some anecdotal evidence, a slug before bed could have you bouncing off the walls. MCTs also are said to sharpen mental clarity — not particularly helpful if you’re trying to wind down for the night. That’s why every Silicon Valley bros favorite drink, Bulletproof Coffee, includes MCTs. Not too restful.
But — and there’s a but! — healthy fats, which include coconut oil (as well as fish, eggs, avocado, and nuts), provide your body with the necessary building blocks for many functions, including the production of sleep hormones. If your hormones aren’t secreted properly or are out of whack, your sleeping patterns are going to be disrupted. So, by helping to regulate your hormone production, coconut oil can, indirectly, encourage better sleep.
Still, experts recommend no coconut oil (or other coconut products) after 7:00 p.m. If you choose to supplement, the best way to do it, according to The Coconut Post, is “to divide your dosage up throughout the day.” You can find a chart with their recommended dosages based on body weight here.
But go ahead and cook with it, slather it all over your body, or swish it around in your mouth before bed. If you’re lying awake, try counting its myriad uses (we came up with more than 40). It just might help you fall asleep.