Insomnia, and how diet affects sleep

If, over any significant length of time, you have trouble falling asleep, can’t stay asleep for long, or repeatedly wake up early then you probably have insomnia. If it lasts for more than six months it becomes chronic insomnia and will begin to seriously affect your overall health. Did you know that your diet can affect your sleep in big ways?

​What causes insomnia?

​​So many things. To name a few:

  • situational stress such as relationship or job worries
  • anxiety and depression
  • certain medications
  • caffeine
  • light coming in through the window
  • alcohol
  • pain
  • an out-of-sync circadian rhythm
  • or the commonest one I hear about – a partner snoring!

​How does diet affect sleep?

​​If someone has a diet high in sugar and refined carbs they’ll experience large blood sugar fluctuations. This might make them sleepy and lethargic at certain times of the day, typically late morning and late afternoon, and unable to sleep at bedtime, or they might even wake in the night with false hunger. Change to a diet of slower-releasing, less highly processed foods and get the body used to not expecting frequent snacks.

​​Stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol will keep you awake, interrupt sleep and could lead to insomnia. Caffeine has a long half life, which means that in some people even caffeine from a coffee in the morning will still be in their system at bedtime. In most people, an afternoon coffee will still be stimulating their brain and body when it’s time to go to sleep. Other caffeinated drinks too, such as tea (including green) and Cola are stimulants, and so is chocolate. Switch to water, decaf tea or coffee or non-caf herbal teas.

​​When you eat is also a factor, so if you’re eating late, within 3 hours of bedtime, you’ll likely find it harder to stay asleep as the body’s circadian rhythms are not geared around digesting food while sleeping. The gut needs a break in order to repair itself overnight. Eat your dinner early evening, go for a gentle walk and then chill down to bedtime.

​What else might affect sleep?

​​Exercising in the evening, particularly hard exercise, is a stimulant that you will very likely find it hard to wind down from; gentle exercise such as walking has the opposite effect. Overexercising in general puts the body into a state of stress and the resulting endocrine disruption will affect sleep quality. Take rest days, take rest weeks, moderate your exercise.
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​​Working late will also keep cortisol circulating, which is not conducive to good sleep, cortisol is a wakefulness hormone. Keep work to the daytime if possible.

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