March 7, 2012

Too Hungry to Sleep?

Insomnia is actually a deep level of exhaustion.

In my last article, I talked about how most people with sleep trouble think they have too much energy and simply can’t settle down. Odd as it may seem, the body needs energy to calm or sedate itself for sleep. Without energy, we stay awake, “wired and tired.”

The second most common cause of insomnia is a silent blood sugar issue that affects one third of Americans. The worst part is, a shocking 90 percent of people are unaware of this problem until it is too late! (1)

Could you or someone you know be suffering from blood-sugar-related insomnia? Keep reading to learn the facts about this troubling, little-known sleep issue.

First Comes Stress, Then Come Cravings

Sleep disorders affect an estimated 50-70 million Americans and, as I discussed in my last article, “Too Tired to Sleep?” much of this is caused by stress and exhaustion. When under stress, the adrenals go shopping for energy. Their favorite stop is the pancreas, where stress generates insatiable cravings for sweets to create the energy the adrenals can no longer provide.

Before you know it, Americans are waking up to a sugar-laced cup of coffee or two. In an attempt to pick the healthy choice, we might sip green tea to keep us going through the morning. Lunch might be a salad and a diet soda. Then, as the blood sugar starts plummeting—bringing on the all-too-well-known afternoon crash—dark chocolate is passed around the office as if you had called room service. By the end of the workday, either a workout, latte or a nap is the only thing getting us home without falling asleep.

The Band-aid Cure

To remedy this, some of us have adopted a diet that was originally formulated for folks with severe hypoglycemia—the “six small meal a day” diet. The idea behind it being that, if you eat six small meals a day, the body and mind will have a steady flow of fuel and never crash. In a recent article, “Dangers of Frequent Eating,” I discussed my issues with this dietary theory and presented the research debunking this grazing phenomenon.

The High Sugar, Poor Sleep Connection

Whether you are one of the many who have been told to eat many small meals a day—or you are a grazer by habit—and have trouble sleeping, let me walk you through the logic of how one affects the other. This will not apply to everybody.

You eat every two to three hours all day (either very intentional “healthy” meals intended to boost metabolism, or just grazing and snacking out of habit). As a result, your body comes to expect getting fed every two to three hours, right? You go to bed at the end of the day and expect to sleep through the night for eight or nine hours with no food.

It is no wonder folks can’t sleep through the night—they are waking up hungry!

The Good Night, Sleep Tight Fuel

Humans are designed to burn fat through the night because it burns long and slow—in contrast to sugar and carbs which burn quickly—and then break the fat-burning fast with break-fast. Today, because of undetected blood sugar issues, many people never go into fat metabolism during the night at all, instead attempting to burn sugar and carbs through the night as they did during the day.  With sugar and short chain carbs delivering only short, quick emergency bursts of energy, sleeping through the night becomes a tall order.

As the amount of sleep decreases, blood sugar increases, escalating the issue. Lack of sleep has been shown to increase blood sugar levels and the risk of diabetes (2).  Higher blood sugar means less long-lasting fat metabolism in the night and even less sleep. See the cycle?

Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine found that people who slept less than six hours a night had blood sugar problems compared to those who got eight. This illustrates the cycle of sleep deprivation raising blood sugar, and unstable blood sugar in turn compromising quality sleep.

Beyond Sleep Issues–The Potential Consequences

As a result of less than ample sleep, people wake up tired and reach for that vanilla latte, sending the blood sugar right back up.  Without realizing it, cravings for quick energy drinks, bars, breads, pastas and sweets become the norm. This constant surge of sugar and simple carbs puts significant strain on the pancreas. The result is a condition called Pre-Diabetes, which affects 1/3 of the American population and, according to the CDC, 90% of those people don’t know it (1).

In the short term, studies link disturbed sleep with increased cortisol production (a stress hormone) and weight gain (3).

Here is a list of at-home therapies to support blood-sugar-related sleep issues:

1. Eat three meals a day with no snacks.
2. Eat whole foods – avoid processed foods.
3. Avoid baked goods, simple carbs and starchy veggies.
4. Eat fruits whole and avoid juice.
4. Increase intake of non starchy veggies – eat lots at each meal.
5. Get 1 gram of protein per day for each pound of body weight, just until sleep normalizes.
6. Drink half of your ideal body weight in ounces of water per day.

Rest Well,
Dr. John



1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2007) National Diabetes Fact Sheet, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Diabetes Translation.
2. Challem J. Stop Prdiabetes Now. Wiley Press, 2007. p. 234.


Editor: Kate Bartolotta.

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