Q&A: Improved sleep


The Question:  

Having read your book I have been implementing some of your suggestions and finding myself in a much happier place in my relationship with food than I think I have ever been. There are some slightly wonkier days, but nothing overwhelming, and I am feeling very different in terms of health. All of which is great. The biggest difference is that I find myself eating far fewer processed carbs. I don’t want pasta or bread in the quantities I used to, and often don’t feel like eating those foods at all. I’m eating much less meat, eating meat about 1-2 times a week now in small quantities, if at all.

Since making these changes though, I have found that suddenly I am sleeping very badly. I wake at about 3am every night and struggle to return to sleep. I don’t feel stressed or anxious in any way, nor is my brain whizzing round. I am just really alert and awake. Has anyone else ever reported this to you? Do you think it could be connected to making these changes in the way I am eating and dealing with my relationship with food?

My Answer:  

There are so many possibilities; trial and error is the only way forward. My first thought is that increased energy is one of the great benefits of making such changes in your eating, and this could be your body’s reaction to that, even though it’s not helpful at 3am. Many people who stop smoking have similar sleep upsets, I think for the same reason. 

Another guess is that you might be a bit insulin resistant. This means your body produces excess insulin, and then, later, there’s a sudden drop in blood glucose. When that happens (at 3am, assuming this is what’s happening) adrenaline is released, which would explain becoming alert and awake. Try a sweet potato with your dinner, and no other starchy carbs in the evening, to see if that makes any difference.

Another suggestion is to slow down your breathing when you wake up in the early hours, deliberately taking deep, long breaths with a slight pause in between. If you can listen to gentle music on an iPod, that may help you return to sleep faster. Even though you don’t feel particularly stressed, it could still play a part, and it’s not impossible you’re more stressed than you realise. You would find this out if you engaged in some kind of stress management, such as meditation, acupuncture or exercise, and your sleep improved as a result.

Magnesium can be an important mineral to supplement as it relaxes the muscles, and many people are deficient because our soils are depleted. Magnesium Glycinate Chelate is best, between 600-800mg a day, preferably taken in the afternoon or evening.

Finally, in my newsletter about sleep from August 2011, I refer to research that linked poor sleep to low protein consumption and low B12.  

Many sleep problems come from establishing rhythms; patterns which just keep repeating themselves. If the problem continues, you might get a prescription for melatonin (sleep hormone) from your doctor, just to take temporarily to reestablish an improved rhythm.  

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