Dr. Randi Fredricks, Ph.D. is a therapist, researcher and author with a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Doctorate in Naturopathy. Dr. Fredricks works
Diet and Insomnia
Stress affects us in many ways and one of the most common results is lack of sleep. This often leads to difficulty focusing, fatigue, insomnia and other health problems. Lack of quality sleep can have profound effects on the way we perceive our world and navigate our day.
A frequently examined cause of sleep problems is caffeine. But once that is eliminated, what’s left? One area of interest to scientists is carbohydrates and how they affect nocturnal hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia tends to happen when blood glucose levels are abnormally low – too low for the body to function properly. Hypoglycemia is commonly associated with diabetes, but can be caused by other factors as well. In comparison, nocturnal hypoglycemia is a low nighttime blood glucose level. It, too, is found in people who treat their diabetes with insulin. Regardless of the cause, neurological symptoms of any type of hypoglycemia are the same; dizziness, lightheadedness and blurred vision.
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Nocturnal hypoglycemia has been found to be a common cause of insomnia. When there is a drop in the blood glucose level, it causes the release of hormones that regulate glucose levels. These compounds stimulate the brain and are a natural signal that it is time to eat. During the night, the brain can perceive this as a signal to wake-up and eat. This phenomenon can cause a disruption in sleep and affect overall sleep quality. Fortunately, it can be prevented.
Research has suggested that eating a high-carbohydrate snack and avoiding high-protein foods in the hour or two before bed time helps some people to fall asleep more easily. This is partly because eating carbohydrates can significantly increase levels of serotonin, which can increase relaxation and initiate sleep. Types of foods that promote drowsiness include bananas, figs, dates, yogurt, milk, tuna, grapefruit, and whole grain crackers. However, some of these foods, such as dairy, can create food intolerances and interfere with sleep. Because of this, some personal experimentation is typically needed.
Eating before sleep helps sleep quality because it stabilizes blood sugar. This prevents a sudden drop in blood sugar that signals the adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline and cortisol, disturbing sleep patterns. Complex carbohydrates not only prevent nocturnal hypoglycemia – they can help increase the levels of serotonin in the brain, which can also help with sleep. As it turns out, a snack before bed may be just the right thing.
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