Too Hungry to Sleep?

Via Dr. John Douillard
on Mar 7, 2012
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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.


About Dr. John Douillard

Dr. John Douillard, DC, CAP is a globally recognized leader in the fields of natural health, Ayurveda and sports medicine. Over the past 30 years, he’s helped over 100,000 patients repair their digestive system and eat wheat and dairy again. He is the creator of, a leading Ayurvedic health and wellness resource on the web with over 6 million views on YouTube. LifeSpa is evolving the way Ayurveda is understood around the world with over 1000 articles and videos proving ancient wisdom backed by modern science. Dr. John is the former Director of Player Development and nutrition advisor for the New Jersey Nets NBA team, author of six books, a repeat guest on the Dr. Oz show, and has been featured in Woman’s World Magazine, Yoga Journal, the Huffington Post and dozens of other publications. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Receive his valuable health reports in your inbox - sign up for free! ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- For information on Dr. John's newest book, Eat Wheat, please visit, and connect with Dr. Douillard on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Eat Wheat is now available in bookstores. It can be ordered from Amazon, and all major booksellers.


11 Responses to “Too Hungry to Sleep?”

  1. JoshMPlant says:

    But… I want my midnight sandwich! 🙁 Uhg…. hell, even that won't help me sleep. Xanax aaawwwaaayyy!! Great article and great tips!

  2. Hi Dr. John,

    Very informative article. I've shared on main FB page:

    Jeannie Page

  3. Christopher R. says:

    Love the article- except the advice to eat one gram of protein/day per pound of body weight. Dr. Douillard- I find it hard to believe that you expect a 6'3" 200lb. man to eat 200 grams of protein per day!!!!~ Did you mean one gram per kilo instead?
    A diet of 200 grams/ protein per day would wreak havoc on the body- like eating 8 chicken breasts/day! The metabolic waste would swamp the system!

  4. John Douillard, DC says:

    Hi Christopher,
    Thanks for your feedback, Yes, the general rule is per KG.
    But in the case of protein deficiency, it can be more for a short period of time.
    All the best,
    Dr. John

  5. […] it as stress. When you are in a state of stress, you increase the production of insulin and cortisol causing a dramatic rise in nutrient excretion and a decline in calorie-burning capacity. Ultimately, […]

  6. Mark Andaya says:

    The occasional craving is normal. However, if it keeps up, you might want to go to a sleep apnea clinic just in case.

  7. bridgethall says:

    I don't know what's worse though. On one hand there's insomnia where you can barely sleep and always feel cranky and tired. On the other, there's kleine levin syndrome where you sleep for days or weeks and you get memory gaps too.

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  9. Marianna says:

    How long is a short time? I have had problems with sleep because if I don't have enough in the evenings, I wake up in the middle of the night and if I don't get a snack, I sleep very poorly, if I do get a snack, it takes at least 1/2 hour to fall back asleep. I'm willing to try anything, but want to know for how long I should try to keep up the increased protein.

  10. Vivian M says:

    Nice article, thats why I Hate my 3 meals and 3 snacks Diet !!!

  11. Sherri says:

    Thank you. I was starting to feel desperate.

    Last night I woke up to find myself standing in the kitchen. Eating almonds ,while microwaving a cup of coffee from day before while brewing a fresh pot of coffee. Just 2 hours after going to sleep. That is just one night of sleep and eat walking. I’m awake every two hours. Thankfully I don’t have a weight problem. But my lack of sleep is starting to affect me .

    You have given me something to work on.

    My Dad was the same way so I was thinking genetics. But now I see my cycle of stress, chronic exhaustion and lack of protein.

    Thank you. There may be hope. I can’t remember when I had more than 4 hrs sleep and even that has become rare.