Monday, June 16, 2014

Eating to Combat Insomnia

As a person who struggles with insomnia, I generally avoid articles about insomnia. The main reason is that they all typically start with several brutal paragraphs detailing the importance of sleep and all the terrible things that will happen to you if you don't get enough sleep.

Every insomniac knows (better than anyone) how important sleep is, and all those terrible things? We live with them everyday. So yes, sleep is very important, and yes, the lack of it will wreck havoc on your life and cause you to sprout horns and a tail. We know this (and dress to conceal horns and tails.) Reading about it only compounds the anxiety we have about sleep. And usually the recommendations fall into the 'don't drink caffeine after 2pm' category. Duh.

Still, I struggle, and so I periodically brave the insomnia articles in the spirit of surely-there-must-be-something-that-can-help-me?? Hope springs eternal.

My recent focus has been diet. As I mentioned a couple of months ago, I gave up sugar hoping that it might help my sleep. I figured sugar is a stimulant, and less stimulant might translate into more sleep? Initially, my findings were very encouraging. For about two or three weeks after I gave up sugar, I was sleeping quite remarkably well. I tend to fall asleep fine, then wake up 4-5 hours later and am unable to fall back to sleep, but during those few weeks, I was falling right back to sleep! Wow!

Then the other shoe dropped--for some reason, my sleep got worse--way worse. In fact, the past month has been pretty abysmal. So I've been doing some exhaustive internet research. Here are a few things I found:

Eat more protein in the morning, and healthy carbs at night. This runs pretty contrary to what many people do--a bagel, cereal or oatmeal for breakfast and a big piece of meat for dinner. But digesting protein takes a lot of energy and can act as a stimulant, so it makes sense to have a protein-rich meal earlier in the day. There is evidence to suggest that carbohydrate intake can actually reduce the stress hormone cortisol, which is helpful for sleeping. Certainly you want to eat a healthy carb like a sweet (or even a white) potato vs. spongy white bread or sugar. But don't be afraid of high GI foods. Actually, carbs high on the glycemic index were found to shorten the length of time it took people to fall asleep.

I could see how not enough carbohydrate could have contributed to my recent sleep woes. Since I've reduced sugar, I've inadvertently reduced my carb intake, simply because a lot of carbs also contain sugar. In fact, if you're on a very low-carb diet and sleep is a struggle, it might be a good idea to increase carb intake throughout the day, not just at dinner. Yes, you can technically survive without carbohydrates, but if you're not sleeping, why would you want to?

Don't eat right before bedtime. I read that several studies have shown eating in general suppresses the production of melatonin, which is the body's primary sleep hormone. So avoid eating anything for at least two hours before bedtime.

If you're taking vitamin D supplements, do so in the morning rather than evening. In the past I've been vitamin D deficient, so particularly in the winter months, I take vitamin D. I didn't find any hard evidence suggesting that taking it in the evening is problematic, but it makes sense that it might be. Since vitamin D production is stimulated by sun exposure, it doesn't seem far-fetched that it could be sleep-disruptive, right? I'll talk more about vitamin D another time, but for now I'm switching my D to the morning.

Consume bone broth or gelatin powder in the evening to increase glycine, an amino acid found in animal skins or meat from the bone.
I wonder how Fred and Wilma slept??
This is new one for me, but apparently many people are glycine deficient... I'm not sure what I think of this because from what I read elsewhere, glycine is considered a 'non-essential amino acid,' so why is it problematic to be glycine-deficient if it's 'non-essential'? I need to do some more research on this. Am I just not getting it because I'm sleep deprived??

Anyway, I thought I'd just share what I read, in case another insomniac is out there debating whether or not to eat the chicken skin tonight. Go ahead and eat the skin... and let me know how you slept. 

Of course, I also read about eating turkey and drinking tart cherry juice and warm milk. Those all fit in the 'been there/done that/did nothing for me' category, but the above were a few new ones I thought I'd pass along. If you try them and they work, let me know. 

Now I'm going to turn off the blue light of my computer and say night-night. Hopefully this long day will end and tomorrow will not start at 3am. If it does, I'll be doing some gelatin powder shots. Stay tuned...

1 comment:

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