There are two very important questions that I ask on my health assessment concerning sleep. The first is if you are able to fall asleep, the second, if you are able to stay asleep. Many, who cannot stay asleep often, report that they need to get up and go to the bathroom. This may be true if they drank too much fluid before bed, however, it is more likely related to a different pervasive phenomenon; hypoglycemia.
How It Happens One of the primary roles of your metabolism is to make sure there is enough available blood sugar (glucose) to supply energy to necessary tissues. This process is so important that your body will sacrifice most other functions in favor of stable blood sugar levels. Hormonal imbalances, certain headaches, moodiness, menstrual irregularities, certain forms of fatigue, blood pressure elevations, heart disease and gaining weight no matter how little one eats are all related to this phenomenon; so is waking in the middle of the night. see: Metabolic Syndrome, Part I
When the body experiences reactive hypoglycemia, it must have blood sugar when the levels drop. If you are awake, then eating fulfills the need. When you are asleep, your body must use the stored glucose in the liver, called glycogen. Unfortunately, in the hypoglycemic, there is not enough glycogen present to sustain the tissues for the entire night, so the body does something drastic. It begins to eat its own muscle (catabolism) through the process of glycolysis.
This cycle is the result of fatigued adrenal glands. In the final stages of adrenal gland exhaustion, cortisol is diminished and the glands run exclusively off of adrenaline (epinephrine). When adrenaline surges through the body, appetite is suppressed. Just imagine if you were on your way to a nice restaurant for dinner. You haven’t eaten much that day and are especially hungry. Thankfully the restaurant is just a few blocks away. Without any warning, an older man slips off the curb and stumbles out in front of your car. Slamming on the brakes, the tires squeal and you manage to just miss hitting this poor fellow. You leap from the car checking to see if he is OK. Terrified, he assures you that he was not hurt and that all is well. Upon arriving in the restaurant parking lot, while wiping your sweaty hands, you realize that your once thunderous appetite is now a dull roar. In fact, you really don’t feel much like eating at this point. Adrenaline suppresses appetite.
That is why most people who suffer from adrenaline induced insomnia, are not hungry in the morning. They generally skip breakfast and instead opt for coffee (caffeine) until around 11:00 am when they will have a piece of fruit, toast, or a granola bar (simple carbohydrates). The caffeine further stimulates adrenaline and the simple carbohydrates provide a quick blood sugar boost, which makes them feel better. Sadly, both of these choices advance the vicious cycle, ensuring that tonight’s sleep will be just as restless.
Breaking the Cycle Protein is critical to stabilize blood sugar and should be eaten at every meal and with between-meal snacks. Proteins include: meats, eggs, nuts, nut butters, beans of any sort, and dairy. Of course, many of these foods already pose problems for those with allergies and digestive issues, making recovery that much more complicated. Begin with proteins that you know do not cause a problem. Think outside of the box. As creatures of habit, we always reach for the same things: cereal, toast, yogurt, fruit, granola bars and the like for breakfast. Instead, have dinner for breakfast. Eat chicken and green vegetables; fish and brown rice; or hamburger and a salad. Who cares? Are you afraid that Tony the Tiger is going to come and reprimand you for not eating enough processed sugar-filled cereal products?
Another rule: never eat fruit by itself. How many of you start the day with a banana? Bad idea. Now, if you put some almond butter on it, or threw it in with a protein shake, then OK. Otherwise, with respect to blood sugar, you wouldn’t have done much better if you had French toast and syrup instead. Remember to balance blood sugar and begin repairing the adrenal glands…protein, protein, protein.
Final rule: never eat carbohydrates before bed. This is perhaps where people get in the most trouble. By eating a refined carbohydrate without protein support (dessert) before bed, you have initiated a blood-sugar roller coaster. Just gauge how you feel the next morning after a heavy dessert or bowl of popcorn. Chances are you will have a restless night, be dehydrated due to excess water retention, and feel generally sluggish.
There are more steps of course, such as proper adrenal gland support through supplementation, stress reduction (the same reactions are triggered by stress), correcting nutritional imbalances and so forth, but that is all space will permit in this article. Please read the other articles linked above for further information.