Raw Diet Insomnia
Three Ways A Raw Diet Can Mess With Your Sleep
Raw Diet Insomnia is a specific manifestation of a common issue which pops up when people try to lose weight; they change their diet or reduce their caloric intake, and they often don't sleep well as a result.
This often leads to a vicious cycle, because the less you sleep, the harder weight loss becomes.
Restrict a person to four hours a sleep and watch their hunger drive skyrocket, their caloric intake increase 24%, and their hormonal levels - which regulate hunger and wakefulness - get thrown off balance (1).
Put a group on the same amount of calories but let half sleep 5.5 hours while the others gets 8.5 hours and you really see the difference. The group that sleeps more loses more weight, and more of the weight they lose is fat, as opposed to water or muscle (2).
Although not as common as when people start eating an Atkins Diet, general low carb diets, or an eskimo-style paleo diet, it is very possible for someone to adopt a healthy raw food diet and experience insomnia as well.
Sleep is a complicated subject, and there can be many reasons why a person might experience insomnia. When it comes to your average person switching to a raw diet, though, any sleep problems they develop are likely to be caused by one of three root issues.
Raw Diet Insomnia Problem One: Carbs And Calories
Diets that restrict carbs mess with the sleep and mood of a lot of people. Paleo, intermittent fasting, and other low-carb diet forums are full of people complaining of sleep problems.
Research supports the idea that carbohydrate consumption leads to more sleep time, while animal food consumption, caffeine, and chocolate consumption leads to less sleep (3).
Why is this?
The more you restrict carbohydrates, the more the body considers itself to be in a starved, hyper-stressed state. The results are a liver strained by the constant conversion of fats into sugars (gluconeogenesis), fluctuations in leptin levels, firing adrenals, a drop in insulin sensitivity, and often, insomnia.
Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how carbohydrates improve mood and ability to sleep, but enough studies have confirmed that they're a vital player that there can no longer be any doubt.
The basic theory proposed by Judith Wurtman of MIT, and expounded on in most nutrition textbooks, is that eating carbs will increase insulin production, which leads to protein being driven into your cells.
However, the amino acid tryptophan is often bound to a type of protein called albumin, which makes it proof against the effects of insulin.
So eat a big meal of carbs, the theory goes, and you get an increased ratio of tryptophan shooting to the brain compared to other amino acids. More of the receptor sites in the brain get filled by tryptophan, and your body gets a hit of sleep-inducing (serotonin is the precursor for melatonin, which brings on sleep), satiating, mood-enhancing serotonin surging through it.
When you practice intermittent fasting, do large-scale caloric restriction, or consume a low-carb diet, there are many more amino acids competing for those receptor sites, thus reducing your serotonin levels, which means less melatonin.
The less melatonin in your system, the harder it is for you to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Accidental Underconsuption and Large-Scale Calorie Restriction
Since a healthy raw diet will provide you with at least 80% of your calories from carbohydrates, the ratio of carbs to fat to protein isn't an issue here, like it is with low-carb diets.
The problem is almost always the running of an accidental or purposeful calorie deficit:
Accidental: This is due to a misunderstanding of how the switch from a processed, calorically-dense cooked food diet to a radically lower-calorie raw diet increases the volume of food you must consume to meet your caloric requirements. You simply have to eat more and recognize that greater volume is the new normal. Many people lack the knowledge of caloric density to make smart food decisions, or don't possess an elastic enough stomach.
Purposeful: This is almost always the result of a desire to drop body fat really quickly. People decide that instead of choosing the slow but steady root of shaving off a few hundred calories from their weight-maintenance caloric intake, they'll just run a deficit of 500 or more calories per day and race to skinny.
This not only leads to cravings which will knock you off track, but also sleep problems, which, as mentioned above, leads you to lose less fat and more water and muscle.
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Raw Diet Insomnia Problem Two: Lack Of Chromium
Although only a problem for a small fraction of raw foodists, I've now worked with more than a dozen coaching clients who needed to supplement with the trace mineral chromium to avoid insomnia and other sleep problems.
I first discovered this connection several years ago when trying to address my own sleep problems, and choosing to supplement is probably the single best improvement to my diet regime I've made since I first began experimenting with a raw foods in 2005.
Why is chromium important for high-quality sleep?
At least in rats, chromium consumption increases the uptake of tryptophan to the brain, and therefore probably increases the amount of melatonin you have in circulation (4).
Also, because chromium deficiency impairs carbohydrate metabolism, it may indirectly affect a carbohydrate-rich meal's ability to send tryptophan to the brain.
To read about why raw foodists may have a chromium deficiency, and my suggestions for supplementation, check out this detailed article on chromium.
Raw Diet Insomnia Problem Three: Meal Timing
One of the tricks I've discovered over the years for improving sleep quality seems a bit counterintuitive
I've observed that when I eat soon before bed, I sleep far longer than if I stop eating a few hours before bed.
This is likely because additional melatonin is surging through my brain when I eat late at night, which keeps me asleep longer.
Also, the act of digestion is very energy intensive, and may slow down the rejuvenative process of sleep, which could increase total sleep time required by the body.
Whatever the cause, the end result is that I sleep later in the morning, which means that I don't get tired until very late at night. This isn't a big problem for me now because I'm self employed and set my own schedule, but when I had a job to report to, I often ended up being tired during the day because I needed to rely on an alarm to jolt me out of sleep.
Essentially, it leads to a sleep deficit and "insomnia" (in the not tired at night sense) in a rather round-about way which may or may not be of consequence to you.
If this is something you want to avoid, consume more of your calories early in the day so you're not as hungry at night, and get in an early dinner.
Raw Diet Insomnia: Following Up
Learn how to eat a healthy diet and avoid raw food insomnia.
Figure out which foods are healthy, and what ones are harmful.
Overcome your health problems.
Raw Diet Insomnia: Sources
1) Spiegel, Karine. Et al. "Brief Communication: Sleep Curtailment in Healthy Young Men Is Associated with Decreased Leptin Levels, Elevated Ghrelin Levels, and Increased Hunger and Appetite."Ann Intern Med December 7, 2004 141:846-850
2) Nedeltcheva, Arlet. Et al. "Insufficient Sleep Undermines Dietary Efforts to Reduce Adiposity" Ann Intern Med. October 5, 2010 vol. 153 no. 7 435-441
3) Grandnera, Michael, Et al. "Dietary nutrients associated with short and long sleep duration. Data from a nationally representative sample. Appetite. 1 May 2013. vol. 64 Pages 71-80.
4) Franklin, M. Et al. Effects of treatment with chromium picolinate on peripheral amino acid availability and brain monoamine function in the rat. Pharmacopsychiatry. 2003 Sep;36(5):176-80.
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