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    YogaBare's Avatar
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    My experiment - curing insomnia through diet

    Primal Fuel
    I decided to start this journal after another fitful night's sleep, after which I woke at 3.30am. This journal is an attempt to discover the link between diet and the ongoing, chronic insomnia that is really affecting my life.

    For 30 days I will experiment with my eating habits (what I eat, and when I eat), and document the subsequent quality of my sleep, and the effects on my mood and body. Along the way I'll share the good research I find.

    It would be nice to have a week-to-week schedule where I try different things, but I don't want to make this too rigid. I want to be free to respond to new findings as they come up.

    If you've ever suffered with insomnia, or are curious about why some people can sleep when they fast, and others can't, then this journal might be of interest to you. If you ever read this do drop me a comment (I'd appreciate the support) and feel free to share your insights!
    Last edited by YogaBare; 06-09-2012 at 02:14 PM.

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    Some Background

    I've never been a great sleeper, but for the last 3 and a half years (since turning veggie), it's gotten significantly worse.

    I've been to doctors, naturopaths, psychotherapists. I've tried natural sleeping pills, anti-anxiety pills (not regularly), giving up caffeine, doing Yoga, going to bed earlier (on a regular basis) and perfecting my "sleep hygiene". Nothing worked. Everyone told me it was stress, and that there was no link between diet and insomnia.

    I went Primal a month ago. Wow. My energy is off the chart, brain fog is gone, my hair is healthier, my skin is less dry... and I'm happier! My diet is vegetarian primal (with dairy) and lots of nuts. I usually eat three solid meals a day: breakfast between 4.30-5.30am (sigh), lunch between 1-2pm, and dinner between 5.30pm - 6.30pm. (In accordance with conventional wisdom!) Everything has been fine except for one thing.

    Sleep.

    For the last two weeks my sleep is getting worse. I go to bed at 10.30pm, usually fall asleep without too much trouble, but once 2.30am hits, I start to wake every 15 - 30 minutes. By 4.30am I have to get up and eat something.

    Now here's the thing. It's not hunger that motivates me to eat - but a sense of urgency. I feel like if I don't eat my nerves are going to be shot.

    Once I do eat something, I might be able to go back to bed, but it's for an hour of really heavy, unrefreshing sleep.

    It's getting to the point where my skin is starting to break out from sleep deprivation, and I am starting to bloat / put on fat, even though I am eating less (no snacking) and healthier food stuffs than ever! There is a well documented connection between insomnia and gaining weight (due to the hormone ghrelin) so I should possibly take some before and after photos... if my sleep has improved by the end of the month I'll post them - it will be interesting to see if I'm lost some fat. If it hasn't improved, I won't bother.

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    Theories (so far) about why I can't sleep:

    - I am hungry. There is too large a gap between my last meal, and when I am supposed to eat breakfast. Eating later will allow me to sleep later.

    - I occasionally have low blood sugar. There is a thing called hypoglycemic insomnia, which is characterised by tossing and turning all night, then waking extremely early in order to get some food. This is hard to measure, as sometimes if blood sugar drops too low the liver will dump glucose back into the blood stream so the blood sugar levels stabilise. To determine if I have this, I will need to measure my blood sugar at 1-2am, and then again upon waking.

    - Magnesium deficiency? A deficiency in Mg is a common cause for insomnia. I already eat lots of spinach, but I will start supplementing.

    - Ghrelin. Hormone that effects sleep and stimulates appetite. When my sleep is crap I eat loads the next day. Maybe I have too muc ghrelin / not enough leptin? I plan to eat foods that suppress ghrelin / stimulate leptin right before bed.

    - The dance of melatonin and serotonin: When melatonin levels are too high in the brain, it naturally results in the suppression of serotonin. Serotonin allows us to sleep. Eating carbs stimulates serotonin.

    - My body is going into Ketosis at night?

    - Caffeine. I've tried giving this up before and it didn't make any difference to my sleep. But hey, I'll try again! For one week of the month I'll cut it out and see what happens.
    Last edited by YogaBare; 06-09-2012 at 03:24 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by YogaBare View Post
    Some Background

    I've never been a great sleeper, but for the last 3 and a half years (since turning veggie), it's gotten significantly worse.

    I've been to doctors, naturopaths, psychotherapists. I've tried natural sleeping pills, anti-anxiety pills (not regularly), giving up caffeine, doing Yoga, going to bed earlier (on a regular basis) and perfecting my "sleep hygiene". Nothing worked. Everyone told me it was stress, and that there was no link between diet and insomnia.

    I went Primal a month ago. Wow. My energy is off the chart, brain fog is gone, my hair is healthier, my skin is less dry... and I'm happier! My diet is vegetarian primal (with dairy) and lots of nuts. I usually eat three solid meals a day: breakfast between 4.30-5.30am (sigh), lunch between 1-2pm, and dinner between 5.30pm - 6.30pm. (In accordance with conventional wisdom!) Everything has been fine except for one thing.

    Sleep.

    For the last two weeks my sleep is getting worse. I go to bed at 10.30pm, usually fall asleep without too much trouble, but once 2.30am hits, I start to wake every 15 - 30 minutes. By 4.30am I have to get up and eat something.

    Now here's the thing. It's not hunger that motivates me to eat - but a sense of urgency. I feel like if I don't eat my nerves are going to be shot.

    Once I do eat something, I might be able to go back to bed, but it's for an hour of really heavy, unrefreshing sleep.

    It's getting to the point where my skin is starting to break out from sleep deprivation, and I am starting to bloat / put on fat, even though I am eating less (no snacking) and healthier food stuffs than ever! There is a well documented connection between insomnia and gaining weight (due to the hormone ghrelin) so I should possibly take some before and after photos... if my sleep has improved by the end of the month I'll post them - it will be interesting to see if I'm lost some fat. If it hasn't improved, I won't bother.
    Can't you go outside or do a minute of jumping rope when you wake up to get rid of the urgency to eat? This will maybe keep you even more awake but I think you should unlearn your body to having to eat at 4:30 am. The reason I think this will help is because i used to wake up 4 times a night to pee, I tried everything (things like not drinking and eating 2 hours before bed etc) but the problem stayed. I decided to hold it in and just stay in my bed. After a week or so I stopped waking up. I simply changed my body's rythm.
    Billie trips balls

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    Thanks Gadsie. I think you're definitely right about the body's rhythms. Actually, that's one of the first things I'm doing - learning to delay or even skip breakfast. Woke up at 4am today and managed to hold off eating til 8.40am. Progress!

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    Good resource with an exhaustive (no pun intended) list of suggestions for better sleep. Thirteen tips for a great nights sleep

    I'll try to work my way through this..!

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    It was a few days ago that I decided to shake up my eating habits to see the effect on my sleep, so here's the back log.

    A NOTE ON COFFEE CONSUMPTION: I gave up coffee for two years, and it didn't help me sleep. In April I went back on it, and I love it. I will experiment with giving it up at some stage of the 30 days, but at the moment, I'm on it. Instant coffee with rice milk is my vice... don't judge me

    THURSDAY, 7TH JUNE

    Started waking at 2.35am. Tossed and turned til 4am. got up and had LOADS of energy - more than usual - even since starting primal! Did 15 mins of lifting and stretching (basically yoga).

    Breakfast - 5am. Usually for breakfast I have greek yogrt with berries, but today I had Two tomatoes, 125g ball mozarella, a small piece of camombere, with loooots of olive oil. Instant coffee with rice milk (I know - I know. This is my vice!) 10 more mins of lifting.

    9am - quite a bit of walking to work carrying a laptop as underground was down.
    2pm - lunch. Boiled egg, whole avocado, a few cherry tomatoes.
    9pm - dinner. This is my first big change. I normally eat religiously at 6pm. Three egg omlette, 3 mushrooms, small piece feta, lots of camombere, side portion spinach cooked in better. Four heaped teaspoons Greek yogurt for dessert. Felt very full.
    Bed at 11pm. Fell asleep easily.

    FRIDAY, 9TH.
    Result!! Woke at 8.15am!! Had some nightmares, which I'm presuming was the heavy cheese. Notice I am really bloated. And - I also feel lethargic, tired, and low on energy.

    Normally I can't go without breakfast, but I'm trying to mix this up, so I skip. And I'm actually not that hungry. Have 2 instant coffees with rice milk (one caff, one decaff). 10am - proper coffee from cafe.
    1pm - lunch. Am enjoying the subtle hunger feeling - so different to usual. Have 150g Greek yogurt with blackberries, pumpkin seeds, linseeds, almonds.
    8.30pm - dinner. Two boiled eggs, vegetable casserole (cauliflower, celery, mushrooms in a homemade tomatoe and garlic cayenne sauce. Yum!)
    Read about ghrelin - the hunger hormone, and the relationship between insomnia and weight gain. Transpires that carbohydrates appear to play a primary role in regulating ghrelin levels. Here's Lyle McDonald's take on it: Bodyweight Regulation Wrap-Up: A Few More Hormones | BodyRecomposition - The Home of Lyle McDonald
    Perhaps my ghrelin levels are too high? I do a quick scan of what foods are good for reducing ghrelin. Cue drinking tea with three cloves of raw garlic in it
    11pm - bed. Fall asleep within 20 mins.

    SATURDAY, 10TH
    I am furious. Well, I would be furious if I wasn't so exhausted. I wake up at 3.30am. I refuse to eat something (my usual tendency) because I am trying to break the cycle, but I feel that familiar sense of urgency. I am still really bloated. Have two decaff coffees with - yes - rice milk! I feel anxious, angry, and pretty depressed. My skin is getting worse. I do some design stuff to get me into a creative mode, but I can feel stress running through my body. I am showing more and more symptoms of sleep deprivation.

    Eventually (at 8.40am) I cave and start to eat. And cannot stop. Oh dear.

    (Do I need to log everything I ate today? Maybe at the end of the post... for anyone's morbid curiosity (in case anyone is actually reading this). I can put away quite a lot of food for a slim build person).

    This is my familiar pattern. This food diary is making me face it. I go through days where I am vlc. Eventually my sleep starts to suffer, I start to break down, and then I splurge on "bad" food - partially because I want to be able to sleep that night. It's my first time doing this since I've gone primal. I haven't felt the urge to have bad food, really.

    I've done a lot of research into low carb diets and insomnia. They are definitely connected - in SOME people. I want to find out why they are connected in me. Hopefully that discovery will come at the end of the 30 days. In the interim - I have to accept that low carb dieting is not working for me. Cutting carbs are giving me more energy, and helping me shed some skinny fat, but it's counter productive when I suffer so badly from insomnia. Increased cortisol levels caused by insomnia make you store fat, plus sleep deprivation stimulates production of our old friend ghrelin, who increases our appetite. Result: stalled metabolism, higher food consumption, and great tendency to store fat.

    And here's the thing - my gluttony today was a big revelation. I gorged primarily on dairy, and nuts, but there was also chocolate and flavoured ice cream... and I didn't crash. Is it possible that starches are my enemy, not sugars?

    I'm going to fast tomorrow until evening, and then I will eat something carb-y. Like a sweet potato. For the next few days, I will eat some gentle carbs in the evening time, and see how that helps me.

    After all that food, we'll see how I sleep tonight..!

  8. #8
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    I would guess you are waking up from hunger and feeling a little manic because you are in ketosis. It looks to me like you don't really eat very many calories. Can you bump up the fat and protein in your diet a bit? And add magnesium for sure. It did amazing things for my sleep.
    Using low lectin/nightshade free primal to control autoimmune arthritis. (And lost 50 lbs along the way )

    http://www.krispin.com/lectin.html

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    Quote Originally Posted by jammies View Post
    I would guess you are waking up from hunger and feeling a little manic because you are in ketosis. It looks to me like you don't really eat very many calories. Can you bump up the fat and protein in your diet a bit? And add magnesium for sure. It did amazing things for my sleep.
    Thanks Jammies. Yeah, this is the sudden revelation I've had. I've been yo-yoing with eating normally some days, followed by low calorie days, followed by gorging myself. I need to find balance.

    If I was in ketosis wouldn't I be burning fat? I haven't been losing weight lately.

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    Had two amazing nights sleep on Monday and Tuesday. Ate a big plate of spring greens (cooked in butter) right before bed, washed down with 500g Magnesium, and 30g Zinc. Did the same last night, but woke after the obligatory four hours. Don't mind so much, cos I've slept quite well over the last few days, but it shows that I didn't find the solution.

    But I'm on the right track. The insomnia has everything to do with calorie consumption. I did a lot more excercise yesterday, but ate the same amount, so I figure I was in more of a deficit. Found this very interesting artclie, which explains a few things:

    This section is from the book "Practical Dietetics With Special Reference To Diet In Disease", by William Gilman Thompson. Also available from Amazon: Practical Dietetics with Special Reference to Diet in Disease.
    Diet In Insomnia And Disordered Sleep

    Insomnia is due to many causes, but those which concern dietetics are the opposite extremes of overfeeding and starvation or inanition. Overfeeding or eating improper food may cause disordered sleep, nightmares, or temporary insomnia from attacks of acute indigestion, dyspepsia, or biliousness, but inanition or malnutrition is more apt to cause true insomnia from exhaustion. Neurasthenic subjects whose nerve energy is insufficient to conduct their digestive. and absorptive functions completely are very liable to suffer from insomnia. They unfortunately resort to hypnotic drugs instead of first trying the efficacy of dietetics.

    It is a good rule in such cases to improve the nutrition by carefully regulated feeding at frequent intervals. In addition to three good meals a day, the patient should be made to take one or two quarts of milk, with beef tea and one or two ounces of malt extract. By gradually increasing the diet according to such rules as those given for the treatment of neurasthenia, in a week or ten days the patient can often be made to reach the maximum above given, and improvement is almost certain to follow. It is best to take the heaviest meal of the day in the early afternoon not as late as six o'clock, for an overloaded stomach with indigestion is itself a cause of insomnia, but, on the other hand, going to bed with a perfectly empty stomach is usually undesirable. In mild cases a glass of hot milk, a couple of teaspoonfuls of meat extract in hot water, or a cup of good beef tea and a biscuit, or a cup of cocoa, or chicken broth, or a light sandwich and a glass or two of beer or ale, taken just before retiring, will serve to divert the blood current from the brain to the stomach and induce cerebral anaemia and sleep without the use of medicines, stimulants, or "nightcaps," and if anodynes have to be given, a little food taken in this manner increases their efficacy and makes a smaller dose possible.

    Read more: Diet In Insomnia And Disordered Sleep
    Last edited by YogaBare; 06-13-2012 at 09:08 PM.

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