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Is Food Keeping You Awake?

October 6, 2012

Is food keeping you awake? I don’t mean – do you have indigestion, upset stomach, heartburn or a number of other outward symptoms that make you so uncomfortable you can’t sleep. No I am talking about something a little more subtle. Something I never would have thought of.

Eating certain foods can keep a person from going to sleep and to sleep soundly. It can even contribute to a person waking up repeatedly during the night. A food can cause so much stress on your body that it flips you into sympathetic override (the fight/flight mode).

One flips into this mode when they sense that they, or someone they love, are in danger. For example, if your child is running into the road when traffic is coming, you flip into this mode. Your body jumps into this mode so that you can act quickly and efficiently to handle the crisis. Your digestive system slows down, your heartbeat goes up, your pupils dilate, you think very clearly with creative solutions to problems, cortisol (stress hormone) levels go up, etc.  A person normally flips back into parasympathetic mode (the opposite of sympathetic mode) when the danger is gone.

When I consume caffeine, I experience the same symptoms because it also flips me into sympathetic override. This was easy to understand because caffeine is considered a stimulant. However, even after I cut out caffeine, I often still had trouble sleeping.

Then I realized, with a little experimenting, that gluten was causing me to flip also. Gluten is a protein found in foods processed from wheat and related grains, including barley and rye. It gives bread that great chewy texture.

I cut out consuming gluten for a month. I noticed positive results quickly – bloating reduced, weight reduced, especially around the mid-section, and I slept better. I cut out the obvious culprits of anything containing wheat. Yes, that means all breads and breading. The list of gluten foods obviously included a lot of junk foods. Oh, it was not easy – especially in this culture! However, there are more and more gluten free options. And the fact that I can now sleep and sleep soundly is making it well worth it!

A friend of mine has similar issues with dairy. She did not sleep for years! She cut out dairy and in the same week, she noticed a difference.  She started sleeping better almost immediately. The quick results are one of the greatest benefits. They provide motivation to continue.

It is my experience that people make changes when a good consequence outweighs the inconvenience of changing. If you are having trouble sleeping and/or losing weight, I urge you to experiment. The biggest culprits are gluten, dairy, soy and corn. It costs you nothing but a little discipline to cut something from your eating. It may prove to be a sound decision.

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