What is Insomnia?
Contrary to popular belief, your doctor does not diagnose insomnia based on the number of hours of sleep you get a night or how long it takes you to fall asleep.
According to MedicineNet.com, your doctor’s diagnosis of insomnia in based on, “The perception or complaint of inadequate or poor-quality sleep because of one or more of the following: difficulty falling asleep, waking up frequently during the night with difficulty returning to sleep, waking up too early in the morning, or un-refreshing sleep”.
3 Main Types of Insomnia
This type of insomnia generally occurs as a result of stress, environmental noise, change in seasons (temperature changes), change in environment (especially altitude changes), change in regular sleep schedule, and change in medication.
Intermittent (On-Off) Insomnia
Though the same factors that cause short-term insomnia can also cause intermittent insomnia, this type of insomnia is most common in women, especially those over the age of 60. Intermittent insomnia is generally more serious than short-term insomnia because it can also serve as an initial warning sign of something more serious such as anxiety or mild depression. Intermittent insomnia is also more disruptive to your day-to-day life because of its tendency to eventually lead to irritability, lack of energy and an inability to concentrate.
Insomnia can only be characterized as chronic if it occurs on a regular basis and lasts for longer than a month. Chronic insomnia is hardly ever caused by the same factors that lead to short-term or intermittent insomnia. Instead, chronic insomnia is most often caused by serious, underlying health problems such as clinical depression, heart failure, sleep apnea and hyperthyroidism.
Diet: A Common Cause of Short-Term and Intermittent Insomnia
Individuals suffering from short-term or intermittent insomnia do not always consider their diet to be the culprit. However, research has shown that a variety of diet-related factors such as unhealthy eating habits, food intolerance, and low-carb dieting can lead to insomnia.
Food Intolerance and Insomnia
Chocolate, non-organic dairy products and genetically modified corn and corn products are amongst the types of foods most likely to lead to food intolerance in susceptible individuals. Contrary to popular belief, most people experiencing food intolerance suffer mild symptoms such as restlessness and hyperactivity during the day and insomnia at night.
According to Dr. Herbert J. Rinkel, a pioneer in the study of food allergies, “Intolerance to certain foods can cause histamine to be released in the brain. This can disturb a person’s biochemistry, and can, in some cases, lead to sleep disturbance. In the brain, histamine replaces neurotransmitters, but because it does not function like other neurotransmitters, it creates a dysfunction in the biochemical pathways of the brain (These are responsible for thinking, mood, and behavior). When these pathways are disrupted, one of the symptoms is insomnia”.
Low-Carb Dieting, Insomnia and Nightmares
A very common side effect of low-carb diets, also known as Ketosis diets, such as the Atkins Diet, is short-term or intermittent insomnia accompanied by nightmares. That is because foods that are high in carbohydrates, such as bread, increase serotonin levels, a brain neurotransmitter that tends to promote sleep. Ketosis diets deprive the body of carbohydrates in an effort to force it to burn fat as fuel. This in turn leads to restlessness, depression, low sex drive and insomnia, due to lowered serotonin levels.
The link between high-carb foods and serotonin is a complex issue and may help explain why we term high-carb foods “comfort foods” and engage in behaviors such as “emotional eating”.
List of Foods Known to Cause Short-Term and Intermittent Insomnia
Wine, a key component of the Mediterranean diet has many health benefits. Unfortunately, helping you sleep well is not one of the many health benefits of moderate wine consumption. Wine contains high contents of a stimulant called Pyruvate. Furthermore, though alcohol tends to function as a muscle relaxant, it is also known to prevent deep sleep.
The majority of people who suffer from short-term insomnia also report suffering from indigestion as a result of unhealthy eating habits, such as consuming acidic and spicy foods high in fat, carbohydrates, and sodium at dinner. Pizza, which contains high amounts of sodium and tomato sauce, which is highly acidic and can trigger heartburn and indigestion, is a prime example of the type of food that can lead to digestive problems and sleepless nights.
High consumption of soft drinks throughout the day is, in my opinion, one of the main reasons why so many Americans suffer from short-term or intermittent insomnia. Soft drinks are made of a deadly cocktail of carbonation, sugar/artificial sweetners, high fructose corn syrup and caffeine, all of which function as addictive stimulants within the body and brain. Furthermore, the carbonation in soft drinks is known to cause digestive problems and heartburn which can also result in sleepless nights.
Chocolate contains some caffeine and functions as a mild stimulant. So, if you enjoy your chocolate early in the day it will not effect your sleep. However, if you consume a chocolate bar right before bed it will prevent you from falling asleep or reaching deep sleep. Likewise, as I mentioned earlier, if you are allergic to chocolate, this intolerance may manifest itself via insomnia.