What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a common sleeping disorder that can make it hard to fall asleep, hard to stay asleep, or cause you to wake up too early and not be able to get back to sleep. You still feel tired when you wake up. Insomnia can sap not only your energy level and mood but also your health, work performance and quality of life. (1)
Sleeping Problems For 5 Years
I haven’t slept well for many years. Since I came to the Netherlands and lived on my own, far from family and people I was close. I guess the fact that I felt lonely and not having someone around. Even though I did not really realize that I felt lonely, it had an effect on me. Why didn’t I realize it? Life! Being too busy with life, work, school etc. causes us to ignore our own body’s and minds signals.
I checked several factor which were known to cause insomnia (see below) and I tried many things like not drinking coffee, not using the computer late at night. I did not have any medical conditions or psychiatrical disorders. I was not able to find a definition which fit my case and therefore I was unable to find a solution.
I woke up at night at least 3-5 times. Irrespective of the time I went to bed, I woke up every morning around 5am. I felt I did not have energy during the day, I had struggles concentrating.
1. Medical Causes of Insomnia
There are many medical conditions (some mild and others more serious) that can lead to insomnia. In some cases, a medical condition itself causes insomnia, while in other cases, symptoms of the condition cause discomfort that can make it difficult for a person to sleep. (2)
Examples of medical conditions that can cause insomnia are:
- Nasal/sinus allergies
- Gastrointestinal problems such as reflux
- Endocrine problems such as hyperthyroidism
- Neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease
- Chronic pain
- Low back pain
- Sleep apnea
Insomnia can be caused by psychiatric conditions such as depression. Psychological struggles can make it hard to sleep, insomnia itself can bring on changes in mood, and shifts in hormones and physiology can lead to both psychiatric issues and insomnia at the same time. (2)
However, having depression does not mean that you have to have insomnia. Some people experiencing depression tend to sleep way more than usual. Changed sleeping patterns are a known symptom of depression.
Most adults have had some trouble sleeping because they feel worried or nervous, but for some it’s a pattern that interferes with sleep on a regular basis. (2)
- Getting caught up in thoughts about past events
- Excessive worrying about future events
- Feeling overwhelmed by responsibilities
- Anxiety may be associated with onset insomnia (trouble falling asleep), or maintenance insomnia (waking up during the night and not being able to return to sleep).
- In either case, the quiet and inactivity of night often brings on stressful thoughts or even fears that keep a person awake. (2)
When this happens for many nights (or many months), you might start to feel anxiousness, dread, or panic at just the prospect of not sleeping. This is how anxiety and insomnia can feed each other and become a cycle that should be interrupted through treatment. (2)
4. Insomnia & Foods To Avoid
Certain substances and activities, including eating patterns, can contribute to insomnia.
Alcohol is a sedative. It can make you fall asleep initially, but may disrupt your sleep later in the night. (2)
Caffeine is a stimulant. Most people understand the alerting power of caffeine and use it in the morning to help them start the day and feel productive. Caffeine in moderation is fine for most people, but excessive caffeine can cause insomnia. A 2005 National Sleep Foundation poll found that people who drank four or more cups/cans of caffeinated drinks a day were more likely than those who drank zero to one cups/cans daily to experience at least one symptom of insomnia at least a few nights each week. Caffeine can stay in your system for as long as eight hours, so the effects are long lasting. If you have insomnia, do not consume food or drinks with caffeine too close to bedtime. (2)
Nicotine is also a stimulant and can cause insomnia. Smoking cigarettes or tobacco products close to bedtime can make it hard to fall asleep and to sleep well through the night. Smoking is damaging to your health. If you smoke, you should stop. (2)
Heavy meals close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep. The best practice is to eat lightly before bedtime. When you eat too much in the evening, it can cause discomfort and make it hard for your body to settle and relax. Spicy foods can also cause heartburn and interfere with your sleep. (2)
So as I mentioned, I checked this list, and compared it with my life in order to find the key to the solution. But none of the mentioned causes in literature applied to me. I did not have medical conditions, no psychitrical conditions, I did not drink alcohol, smoke, eat late or drank a lot of coffee.
After many years of sleepless nights, I decided to change my diet in order to live a healthy life. I had never thought about diet having anything to do with insomnia. I changed my diet in order to prevent or reduce the risk of getting diseases such as Diabetes Mellitus, Heart Diseases, Cancer, and Obesity. I adapted to a plant based infused vegan diet. Read more about HOW TO BECOME A PLANT-BASED INFUSED VEGAN? and my post about Whole foods plant-based diet: Why and What?
But what I realized was that changing my diet also changed my sleep. I started to sleep tight, not waking up at night anymore. I slept the 8 hours I always should have and wanted to sleep. I felt more energetic and healthy. I was confused. I did not remember anymore how it felt to sleep well and not be tired the whole day.
I started looking for literature and posts about diet and foods linked to improve sleep. The information on the internet is very limited. There is a lot of information about what to avoid in order to sleep better and almost nothing about what might help, except of this one website 10 Top Foods To Eat And Avoid For Insomnia. Once I read which foods were beneficial for sleeping problems, I understood why my sleeping pattern became so significantly better. Without even knowing I had introduced extremely healthy and sleep-enhancing foods into my diet by changing my average diet into a plant based diet.
Top Foods To Eat And Avoid For Insomnia (3)
1. Walnuts: “Walnuts are a good source of tryptophan, a sleep-enhancing amino acid that helps make serotonin and melatonin, the “body clock” hormone that sets your sleep-wake cycles.”
2. Bananas: Bananas are one of the more well known sleep aiding foods.
3. Salad Leaves: Diana Herrington explains “The white fluid that you see when you break or cut lettuce leaves is called lactucarium. This has relaxing and sleep inducing properties similar to opium but without the strong side effects. Simply eat a few leaves or drink some lettuce juice.”
4. Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes a key ingredient in the diet of the Okinawans, who are some of the healthiest and longest living people on the planet. They are another great source of potassium, the micronutrient that encourages muscles to relax. Sweet potatoes also contain B6, and a dose of sleep inducing complex carbohydrates.
5. Kale: The cruciferous veg is packed full of protein and health promoting micronutrients, most notably calcium. As well as promoting strong bones, calcium helps the brain to convert tryptophan to melatonin, essential for a good night’s sleep.
6. Herbal Tea: Jo Lewin explains “Herbal teas, such as chamomile, passion flower tea and valerian, have a mild sedative effect.”
7.Chickpeas: are a one of the more surprising sleep aids. They’re a great source of tryptophan, as well as containing a healthy dose of Vitamin B6, the same sleep promoting micronutrient found in bananas. As if that’s not enough, they also contain calcium, which as mentioned above, helps the brain convert tryptophan to melatonin.
If you are suffering from insomnia with no known cause, I would advise you to change your diet. If turning vegan is a too big step for you, or your romantic love with meat is just too strong, then at least introduce those beneficial foods into your diet and make them sides of your meat dishes. You will be surprised how fast this will change your sleeping problems.