The Facts About Sugar and Insomnia

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Dorine Lam, RDN, MS, MPH

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Sugar and Insomnia – Sleep Maintenance Insomnia (SMI)

Sugar and insomnia: A concern with Adrenal FatigueSleep maintenance insomnia is when you are able to fall asleep but tend to wake up in the middle of the night and are unable to fall back to sleep. This is usually due to a number of factors triggering sleep onset insomnia as well as metabolic imbalances such as sugar and insulin dysregulation that happens during sleep. Sugar and insomnia often are linked.

With excessive stress during the day, the body can sometimes fall asleep despite high cortisol and adrenaline levels simply because of the magnitude of physical tiredness. In other words, the physical tiredness often overwhelms the elevated adrenaline and cortisol levels. The body needs a break. It crashes and you go to sleep. You can be wired and tired but also able to fall asleep for a few hours. However, the cortisol and adrenaline remain high during this time, so the body is awakened by these sustained high levels in the middle of the night as the physical tiredness is reduced by a few hours of rest, leading to sleep maintenance insomnia. Once awakened, it is hard to fall back to sleep.

Another factor that contributes to SMI is metabolic dysregulation. Those who suffer from advanced Adrenal Fatigue often have concurrent metabolic imbalances such as insulin dysregulation and hypoglycemia. When blood sugar drops below a certain level during sleep due to lack of glucose supplied from food, it can activate the SNS, leading to adrenaline release and waking up. Blood sugar can be normal by conventional laboratory standards but the body may be extremely sensitive to the roller-coaster ride of the blood sugar level so that even a small drop within normal ranges during the night can trigger awakening. This is often accompanied by symptoms such as heart palpitations, cold sweats, and nightmares. Even mild drops in blood sugar and insomnia may occur.

In addition to practicing the good sleep habits and protocol for sleep onset insomnia, we need to make sure that the glucose level is stabilized throughout the evening to avoid sleep maintenance insomnia. When your blood sugar level falls, healthy adrenals restore the levels back to normal. If the blood sugar levels are not stabilized, there will not be optimal results when attempting to correct the adrenal status. Here are the dietary guidelines to stabilize your blood glucose levels:
Stabilizing blood sugar and insomnia relief:

  • Adrenal Fatigue sufferers need to understand the link between sugar and insomniaDo not skip breakfast. In fact, it should be the biggest meal. You should not wake up feeling hungry, as this is a sign that your blood sugar may be low during sleep. Eat a high quality protein-based breakfast, not just bread and cereal. Eggs are an excellent source of protein and unoxidized cholesterol as long as it is not over-cooked.
  • Eat every two to three hours during the day if you have hypoglycemia or have a tendency to be weak and dizzy two to three hours after a meal but feel great immediately following a meal. Do not wait until you are hungry. However, do not eat continually either.
  • Snack only on low glycemic foods such as nuts, seeds, hard-boiled eggs, etc. for sustained energy release along with a small amount of carbohydrate such as carrot to supply instant energy to the body.
  • Avoid all fruit and carrot juices. Whole fruit such as apple is acceptable.
  • Never, consume high glycemic fruits and foods without a source of protein and fat to balance them. For example, you can eat a combination consisting of a whole fruit with some almond butter to balance the carbohydrate with protein and fat.
  • Take the prescribed natural compounds designed to stabilize blood sugar and calm the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Your health care professional will guide you on this.
  • A bedtime snack is especially important. The portion can be small, but for some, it may be quite a full meal. Your health professional will advise you on the best regiment.
  • If you wake up in the middle of the night, have another light snack.

Be Patient with Changes

Sleep issues may take some time to resolve, so be patient. Stick with your routine and slowly you will begin to experience the benefits of a good night’s sleep.

There is a large variety of sleep aids available. Some of the sleep aids may help while others may not. Each sleep aid nutrient has specific pathways that work best for different people. Gaba, for example, works better for those with Adrenal Fatigue and are adrenal dominant, while 5-HTP is usually more effective for the thyroid dominant type. Because each body behaves differently in response to different types of sleep aid nutrients and the predominance of paradoxical reactions in Adrenal Fatigue, the experienced clinician will employ different combinations of natural compounds for maximum effect. Because of the multiple pathways involved in the sleep mechanism on different parts of the mind and body, some trial and error is usually required.

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© Copyright 2014 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Sugar and insomnia