The truth about gluten and sleep!
Updated: Jun 3
What the heck does gluten have to do with sleep? A lot! Don’t believe me? Keep reading to find out.
I realize that the whole gluten-free thing has become a craze. An annoying one to the bakers and foodies of the world. But there's a good reason why so many people are avoiding gluten these days.
My grapple with gluten
I’ve gone back and forth with my body and gluten. As a nutritionist and wellness seeker, I’ve given up gluten many times. Honestly, I haven’t noticed much of a difference. Until now.
A few weeks ago, I was feeling tired and bloated. I wasn’t sleeping all that well (I know, that’s crazy coming from a sleep expert!). And I had this sour-smelling BO. Yes, I’m talking body odor. Gross, right?
I had this theory that eating foods you’re sensitive to can give you bad body odor. So I decided to eliminate gluten and see if it helped. Within a few days it did! I felt more energetic and lighter. I started sleeping so much better: I would get up to pee and fall immediately back into dreamland. And my awful body odor went away.
I’ve been gluten free about 2 weeks now. My son’s birthday was last weekend. I decided to experiment and eat a cupcake I made him (the real deal with gluten of course). Sure enough, that night I woke up at 5:30am and couldn’t go back to sleep like I usually do. Sadly, that means no more gluten for me.
I’ve given up wheat before so it wasn’t hard for me to change my cooking. My biggest struggle is being a foodie and loving bread. Especially Persephone bread. Jackson locals, you know what I’m talking about! So I realize that eliminating gluten is friggin hard, especially if you’ve never done it before. Join my Facebook community or mailing list to get access to the Guide to Going Gluten-Free!
What’s the big deal about gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Gluten gives bread and other yummy pastries their chewy soft texture that’s hard to replicate with other flours. Unfortunately, it’s also hard for us to digest. There are three reasons for that: the way we grow it, the way we process it and the way we eat it has all changed significantly in the last century.
The wheat used to make your bread today is drastically different than it was 60-70 years ago. The plant itself has been genetically changed to produce a bigger protein and a higher yield and to be pest and drought resistant. If you’re thinking gmo, you’re right. As the author of Wheat Belly, Dr. William Davis says, modern wheat is “a distant relative of the wheat our mothers used to bake muffins, genetically and biochemically light-years removed from the wheat of just 40 years ago.”
Historically, every culture on earth had a process to prepare grains to make them digestible. They either fermented (think sourdough), sprouted or soaked cereal grains to break down the starches and remove enzyme inhibitors. These processes made the nutrients in the grains available to us.
Refining flour became popular in the late 1800’s. This refinement made the flour last longer and eliminated pests, but it also removed the nutritious bran and germ parts of the plant.
Now, factories make bread as efficiently as possible, without taking the time to properly prepare the grains. This short cut makes them hard for us to digest. And eating refined flour provides zero nutrition for your body.
Now I have some good news for you! Many people who can't tolerate modern wheat do just fine with ancient forms of wheat like einkorn and spelt. If you find your body doesn’t like today’s gluten, you can also try buying sprouted flour (I like King Arthur’s), freshly grinding and then soaking your own flour or making sourdough bread.
How does gluten affect sleep?
A small percentage of the population has Celiac disease, which is the body reacting to gluten causing an autoimmune condition. However, many more people are sensitive to gluten than you realize. Everyone reacts differently when you’re eating foods you’re sensitive to. Some people experience digestive issues but for others it manifests as skin problems, mental health conditions or insomnia. It’s hard to know if a certain food is affecting you until you remove it from your diet for a month and then reintroduce it and see what happens.
When you eat something your body doesn’t like, it causes inflammation. Any time there’s inflammation, your body releases the anti-inflammatory hormone cortisol. When your body releases this stress hormone during the night, it suppresses melatonin and wakes you up. That’s why If you eat gluten and your body is sensitive to it, it could be sabotaging your sleep.
So, what the heck do you do? I suggest eliminating gluten for a month and see what happens. Notice how you’re sleeping and how you’re feeling.
The tricky part is that if you’re sensitive to other foods and still eating them, you may not notice a difference by only eliminating gluten. That’s where the food sensitivity test I use for my clients comes in handy. We’ll be able to identify exactly what foods you’re sensitive to and eliminate them so your body has a chance to heal. Once you’re sleeping better, then you can reintroduce them and see how your body tolerates them.
My philosophy is that you should be able to tolerate most whole foods if you have a healthy gut. The key is to take the time to heal the gut and then try to add foods back into your diet.
Want to know more about how food may be sabotaging your sleep? Schedule a Sleep Breakthrough call with me to find out what’s causing your insomnia and how to fix it.
You have big plans to make the world a better place and my job is to make sure your insomnia doesn’t get in the way!