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Sleep Problems and Paleo Diet

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created March 21, 2012 at 3:14 PM

Hey Everyone! I have a question about sleep & the Paleo lifestyle. Let me first give you a brief history of my sleep issues:
I began having major fatigue issues about 2.5 years ago (summer/fall 2009). I graduated with my BS December 2009 (assuming that lowered some stress I was having). I had some blood-work done in the summer of 2010, and the panel showed that my thyroid levels were good, the only things that came back abnormal were my B12, which was low, and my Vitamin D, which was on the low end of "normal". I took B12 injections for a couple months, then moved to Delaware, and did not continue them. My problems persisted, so I saw another GP in early spring 2011. At that point, all my levels were normal (including the B12 and Vitamin D), so they recommended a sleep study. I am still waiting on those results.

My issues are these: I feel like I need to sleep ALL the time. I usually get up around 5-6 am to go to the gym before work; on the weekends, I am usually able to "sleep in" until 7 or 8, rarely later. I usually start getting very tired around 8:30-9:00 at night, and am usually asleep by 9:30. On the weekends, I usually take a nap one of the days. Sometimes they're only 1-2 hours, but other times I have slept 4+ hours in the middle of the day.. Even on days when I've had a solid 9-10 hours sleep, I wake up exhausted.

I have only been eating Paleo for a little over a week.

So here are my questions:
-Am I getting enough sleep? Too much?
-Are there foods that would help this problem?
-Has anyone had similar issues that have been helped by the Paleo diet?
-Is there anything else I'm missing?

Thanks!!

0266737ea1782946902fd3f8e60fa0b9

(2504)

on March 21, 2012
at 08:37 PM

could you maybe use a sleep mask to generate darkness just as an experiment? I'm wondering whether day/night confusion may be happening inside your brain. If you got extra sunlight during day, and increased darkness while you sleep, I wonder if you'd experience improvement.

65bba2aa1de77b31c373c1a390c43ca8

(423)

on March 21, 2012
at 06:26 PM

Thanks.. The problem is it wasn't normal BEFORE starting Paleo. I'm hoping it helps, but I don't know. It's been such an issue for so long now, I feel like there's not anything I can do!

9b0a4701e373d4dd13831cfb9b13f42d

(1677)

on March 21, 2012
at 03:54 PM

My first week of Paleo I was sleeping very soundly for 10-14 hours per day (counting naps) then by week 3 I was back to a more normal sleep schedule. Remember its only your first week, give it time.

65bba2aa1de77b31c373c1a390c43ca8

(423)

on March 21, 2012
at 03:43 PM

I've tried to cut back my caffine. Over the last few months, I would say I have no more than about 8 oz of coffee a day. Occasionally, no coffee, but I'll have caffinated tea. I do get caffeine headaches, so I usually have to have a little something. I have cut out soda as well.

65bba2aa1de77b31c373c1a390c43ca8

(423)

on March 21, 2012
at 03:41 PM

Generally, I'm not napping during the week (only very rarely, usually when I haven't gotten a good nights sleep).. As far as light, I wonder if that may be part of the issue. Since moving to DE in July 2010, I'm not used to how light it is all night... The sky glows orange all night long, never really getting dark. I have 10' tall windows, and no way to cover them easily (plus I'm moving in July/Aug back to FL).

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5 Answers

2
518bce04b12cd77741237e1f61075194

(11577)

on March 21, 2012
at 08:28 PM

One thing I didn't think about when I went paleo was the huge decrease of salt in my diet- when not eating processed foods, I hardly got any salt. The drop in blood pressure made me pretty exhausted- I felt woozy when I stood up, and all I wanted to do was get home and lie down. I started trying to nap, but still felt pretty exhausted. It took upping my salt intake (consciously have to add more to foods, more liberally salting dishes) to bring my blood pressure back up to normal, and my energy felt so much better. Have you thought about maybe getting your blood pressure checked to rule out any circulation problems?

1
Ccacf7567273244733bc991af4ac42ed

on March 21, 2012
at 03:29 PM

I think people have had differing experiences in adapting paleo diets to work with their sleep, but in general it will likely have an effect one way or another!

You say you're usually getting 8 hours sleep, I wouldn't say that's too much - particularly if you're getting in solid naps during the day. But then more may not actually help. At this time of year I'm sleeping (or at least lying in the dark) for about 10-11 hours a night. But if the sleep's not good quality then that's something worth tackling. If your hormonal cycles are in a mess then the change in diet will probably help a lot in settling things down. Activity during the day will have an impact, though again some people find evening exercise to be a great way to get to sleep while others absolutely have to do it in the morning.

How dark the room is, and what the noise levels are will be important. Some research shows that even the slightest bit of unnatural light can upset the body so be wary of LED lights and bright alarm clocks. Those are easy things to turn off or cover up which may help. Similarly, what you do before bed can make a big difference to whether or not your body gets the right cues to fall into a normal sleep pattern. If you have all the lights on and are in front of a screen then, although you feel tired your body may not be ready to sleep deeply.

To be honest, it's hard trying to pick these things apart into individual causes. If you rely on natural light, are active and outdoors during the day while eating a sensible paleo diet, and go lie down in the dark once the sun's down and stay in bed until sunrise then I very much doubt you'll suffer from fatigue for long. But trying to fit that to the rest of your lifestyle requires some compromise and experimentation. For me, I'd say that nothing is worth (regularly) disrupting my sleep for - it's more important to me than my diet (though they tend to work well together).

0266737ea1782946902fd3f8e60fa0b9

(2504)

on March 21, 2012
at 08:37 PM

could you maybe use a sleep mask to generate darkness just as an experiment? I'm wondering whether day/night confusion may be happening inside your brain. If you got extra sunlight during day, and increased darkness while you sleep, I wonder if you'd experience improvement.

65bba2aa1de77b31c373c1a390c43ca8

(423)

on March 21, 2012
at 03:41 PM

Generally, I'm not napping during the week (only very rarely, usually when I haven't gotten a good nights sleep).. As far as light, I wonder if that may be part of the issue. Since moving to DE in July 2010, I'm not used to how light it is all night... The sky glows orange all night long, never really getting dark. I have 10' tall windows, and no way to cover them easily (plus I'm moving in July/Aug back to FL).

0
A08b210e4da7e69cd792bddc1f4aae4b

(1031)

on March 22, 2012
at 02:12 AM

I've had similar symptoms to you regarding the feelings of tiredness for most of my 40+ years. It came to a head about a year ago when it was so bad that most days I felt nauseous and had terrible headaches from the lack of good quality sleep. My doctor sent me for a sleep study which didn't find anything in particular (e.g. sleep apnoea) but the specialist did prescribe Melatonin -- it was transformative! My sleep is so much better (not ideal but a step change improvement) and I no longer feel ill during the day from sleep deprivation. I found it best to get the Melatonin from a compound laboratory as they make it up fresh (the over-the-counter brands just don't work as well for me). In addition, I've been following a Paleo diet for about the last three months and I'm noticing higher energy levels and the need for a bit less sleep; going down from about 8 to 7 hours a night.

0
571e631577f6d001c79049ab79280ef2

(150)

on March 21, 2012
at 08:23 PM

Hi Elle,

First, I would say that when I first started the paleo diet it did affect my sleep. Initially, my insomnia got worse for 2-3 days as my body was expecting carbs, so it had to adjust to them not being there. Then, I started to sleep for long periods every night, like a baby, but for a really long time, 12 hours or so. I took this as a sign that my body was healing in some way, that it needed to do this for a while. It felt good. My sleep times have now normalised (I am about two months in) and gone back to where I was before.

Second, I still get insomnia occassionally, but it's definitely not as bad, and I can usually get back to sleep after reading for an hour, instead of stressing all night long! The things that can trigger it for me are -

dark chocolate (if I have too much or too late in the day) it acts as a stimulant for me and pos. affects my blood sugar levels sim to sweet foods;

computer use before bed, I try to leave an hour between screen time and sleep, pref with some distraction such as reading or a warm bath inbetween;

stress - try to get things off your mind before you sleep, talk to someone about your day or just write it all down!

caffiene, I can't really tolerate that at all, so have not drunk coffee for a long while - even decaff, or chocolate has small amounts though, so again, maybe not after 4pm;

exercise too close to bedtime wakes me up!

Things I've found that help are low lighting levels in the evenings (there is a free program called Flux available for download for computers also, which adjusts screen brightness to match time of day), natural alarm clocks which slowly get lighter in the morning, and good old fashioned lavender (bags or oil on handkerchief/in bath). Oh, and I had a hypnotherapy tape once for childbirth..guaranteed to send me to sleep before the tape ended every time - there are some free hypno sleep tracks out there, though I have never tried those.

Hope that helps some. I can really empathise with how frustrating it is to not sleep or wake up and feel like you've only just hit the pillow. Really hope the sleep study sheds some light!

0
0266737ea1782946902fd3f8e60fa0b9

(2504)

on March 21, 2012
at 03:28 PM

I'd guess the sleep study will hold your answers.

If it doesn't, you might want to check with a naturopath re your blood levels if your problems persist--when I went to a naturopath, she measured different markers for the same issues (eg, apparently there are numerous different thyroid markers, some which are precursors, others are metaboloytes, and my naturopath believed that the MDs measure the wrong marker).

Do you take caffeine? If you do, I'd consider trying to remove it.

Good luck, as someone who battles fatigue too, I send you much empathy.

65bba2aa1de77b31c373c1a390c43ca8

(423)

on March 21, 2012
at 03:43 PM

I've tried to cut back my caffine. Over the last few months, I would say I have no more than about 8 oz of coffee a day. Occasionally, no coffee, but I'll have caffinated tea. I do get caffeine headaches, so I usually have to have a little something. I have cut out soda as well.

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