Do you wake up in the middle of the night and have a hard time falling back to sleep? Maybe you’re up for an hour, maybe two, and then when you do fall asleep, it seems like your alarm clock goes off 5 minutes after you fell asleep. And then you’re tired all day. Frustrating, right? Especially when it happens night after night.
If you want to know if your sleep is good or not, answer these three questions:
- Do you fall asleep within 10 minutes of laying down?
- If you wake up in the middle of the night, do you fall back asleep within 10 minutes?
- When you wake up in the morning, do you feel rested?
You might be waking up in the night to urinate, but even so, you should be able to go back to sleep within 10 minutes. And a side note about your bladder — sometimes what happens is that your bladder has actually trained YOU. It’s not actually that you have to urinate in the middle of the night (technically you should be able to hold it for 8 hours) but rather that you wake up, and then think, “Well, I might as well go…”. Here’s a way to know if you REALLY had to go — if you don’t have to pee for 8 seconds, you didn’t actually have to go. If you find that’s the case, just roll over and go back to sleep. Do that enough and you’ll untrain your bladder. It’ll help if you don’t drink a lot of fluids after 7 pm.
But sometimes it’s not that you have to pee. You wake up and just can’t go back to sleep. Maybe you start thinking, maybe your back hurts, or maybe you just toss and turn for the next hour. What’s up?
The most common reason a person wakes up in the middle of the night is that their brain is hungry. Your adrenal glands are in charge of several things, one of which is keeping your brain fed at night. The problem comes when your adrenals aren’t functioning well. Then your brain doesn’t get enough food at night and it gets a little “panicked” — resulting in waking up. Sometimes, just to make things worse, your brain will release a little bit of adrenalin to break down muscle tissue for food, causing you not just to wake up, but to wake up with anxiety. Ugh.
The main issue here is that your adrenals. I have lots of patients who have googled their symptoms and figured out themselves they have adrenal fatigue (it can be obvious to see) but it’s not enough to just take supplements to fix it. There’s a REASON the adrenals aren’t working and unless you find the root cause, NOTHING will get better. So let’s look at the most common cause for your adrenals to go south.
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Unstable Blood Sugar. The #1 reason, BY FAR, for insomnia of the waking-up kind, is unstable blood sugar. Do you skip meals? Go too long without eating? Eat a lot of carbohydrates or sugar (or at least, you don’t restricte them)? Eating like this can cause drops in your blood sugar. Every time your blood sugar drops, your adrenals have to jump in to keep your brain fed. Do this often enough, and your adrenals will get “tired”, resulting in brain symptoms like having a hard time concentrating, issues with memory and focus, fatigue, irritability, and more. Interestingly, a lot of symptoms that look like Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in adults — many times, it’s just this issue.
You may have noticed that you feel better when you eat — your eyesight clears up, you can think better, you can focus. Don’t eat, get hangry. Eat and you function. What does that tell you? Well, that your brain needs food is correct, but what happens when you go to bed? At some point during the evening, you stop eating because you go to sleep. During the day you might have kept yourself going by eating more frequently, but when you go to bed you obviously can’t keep that up. You lay down and fall asleep, but then you’re facing 7-8 hours of not eating. Your blood sugar starts to drop and it continues to drop all night. If your adrenals were working, they would release a little cortisol to mobilize some glucose to feed your brain but remember? they’re tired, so they don’t.
How To Fix This: eat less carbs and more fat, and eat more frequently — we say every 3 hours . MOST IMPORTANTLY, eat a small protein/fat something before bed (and in people with really bad cases, in the middle of the night when you wake up). Like a scoop of peanut butter, a piece of cheese, some avocado or guacamole, a boiled egg. If you get your food during the day more properly handled, you won’t have to keep eating before bed (or in the middle of the night — these are just temporary stop-gap measures while you manage your eating during the day). This is the most important thing — this type of insomnia comes from what you’re doing during the day. Manage that, and you won’t have to eat before bed or in the middle of the night anymore.
For example, if you eat dinner at 6 pm, but you don’t go to bed before 11, that’s 5 hours. I said above, eat every 3 hours. So it would help if you had a snack like the ones mentioned above, at least for a couple of weeks. That alone might be enough to have you sleep better. If you find yourself waking up and staying up, eat a small thing at that time too, and lay back down.
The patients that I see with this (I co-wrote a book about reversing insomnia with my husband, Dr. Will Mitchell) notice that when they get things more stable during the day, they sleep deeper overall, wake up less or not at all, and wake up feeling rested. It seems like sacrilege to eat before bed, but I guarantee you that if you manage your day, eating a little before bed will have you sleeping deeper and more consistently. If you are someone who eats cereal or ice cream before bed, THIS WILL NOT WORK. Those foods are the root cause of your problem in the first place.
We’re experts in making sure the foods people are eating are not just supporting their health, but also never leave them hungry or feeling deprived. Give us a call if you want to know the details about eating low carb and what exactly to do to regain your health. And your sleep!
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