DISCLAIMER: I’m not a doctor, nutritionist, dietician, or expert in anything other than my own experience. Always consult your doctor if you’re having issues and need to make some changes.
Insomnia – I’ve got it and it sucks. I’ve never had a ton of problems sleeping (minus the fact that in college, I just didn’t sleep a whole lot) but lately, I’ve been seriously struggling. I can be super tired and the minute I lay in bed…I’m wide awake. I’ll lay in bed for 2,3,4,5 or even 6 hours just trying to fall asleep. Once I’m able to fall asleep, I will usually stay asleep, but getting there is pretty rough.
[She definitely does not have insomnia.]
Let’s back up though – what exactly IS insomnia? Insomnia is sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. There are two types of insomnia: primary and secondary. Primary insomnia means that the individual’s sleep problems aren’t a result of another health issue, medication, or substances – insomnia resulting from any of those items would be considered secondary insomnia. It can be either chronic (long lasting) or acute (short term) – insomnia is considered chronic if it lasts for three weeks or more. 
Some well known causes of insomnia include :
- mental health concerns (anxiety, depression)
- excessive stress
- alcohol and caffeine consumption
- chronic pain
- poor sleep habits
Some other contributors to insomnia include :
- activity level
- sleep hygiene
[I do love some coffee.]
For me personally, it’s easy to recognize when something like booze, caffeine, or stress impacts my sleep. I do my best to reduce and minimize the impact of those things on my sleep but the part that I struggle with is alllll of those other contributing factors. I’ll be doing a series on each one of these factors (otherwise, you all would be reading for daaaays) so let’s start with a big one: DIET
There is a TON of info out there about what dietary changes can do to help or impede your sleep – eat a snack, don’t eat anything for hours, low carbs, more carbs, and on and on it goes. Like everything else, this seems to be a pretty highly individual thing. What DOES work for me:
- eating a small carb + fat snack before bed (something like an apple with coconut milk)
- having carbs with dinner
- actually going to bed full/ eating enough during the day
- avoiding sugar right before bed
- having a magnesium supplement
[carbs for dinner = sleep magic]
I definitely like going to bed with something in my stomach – I don’t like to feel overly full but I’ve noticed that if I don’t have a little something before bed, I’m more likely to wake up hungry in the middle of the night (yeah, that happens). I try to make sure I get enough protein during the day, not only for recovery, muscle growth, and health reason but also to ensure that I’m getting enough amino acids, which are pre-cursors to neurotransmitters, and can help with sleep  (you can read more about serotonin deficiency, food, and food cravings here). I usually have the majority of my carbs in the morning after I workout but I slept muuuuuch better when I was able to workout + eat all the carbs in the evening. Carbohydrates can help increase the levels of tryptophan and consequently, serotonin, in your brain which can help you fall asleep faster. Serotonin (and it’s pre-cursor tryptophan) is a neurotransmitter responsible for a myriad of functions including mood regulation, providing signals to your body about resource availability (i.e food and nutrients), and other complex functions of your brain, gut, and nervous system. The trick with using carbohydrates to help sleep is to keep the amounts small. Your body and brain are extraordinarily efficient and as such, they become adapted or develop a “tolerance” to the presence of chemicals and will begin to require more to achieve the same effect. Serotonin functions in a way that is similar to insulin – over time, your brain and become “resistant” to the chemical. (Here’s 10 Tips from Mark’s Daily Apple to help boost serotonin). Moral of the story? Keep it the carb amount small to help you sleep – going on a sugar bender isn’t going to help in the long run.
[Epsom salts are high in magnesium and are fantastic for sore muscles.]
Supplements can also be helpful. I swear by magnesium supplements for help with sleeping and recovery. While magnesium supplements don’t really help me fall asleep, they DO help me stay asleep. The best one I’ve found so far is the M3 from PurePharma – best sleep eveeeer. There are plenty of other supplements that can help with sleep – the most popular of which is melatonin (although I recently got completely wired from taking this and could NOT sleep at all). Melatonin (which is converted from serotonin) is hormone that is released to help your body get ready to sleep and regulate your circadian rhythm (your sleep/wake cycle). You can buy melatonin supplements (you should talk to your doctor first!) and take before bed to help you sleep, although the dosing can be a bit tricky. Also, like everything else, finding your unique tolerance is important. Primarily, melatonin is used to help “reset” your circadian rhythm and essentially “cycled” – once you are able to sleep well, it’s recommended that you wean yourself off the supplement slowly .
[My usual pre-bed snack: apple and coconut milk...and sometimes bacon.]
Despite the fact that I KNOW all of these things, I find myself not putting them into practice. I know that I need to be eating more but because I’m not sleeping well, my appetite is down, which means I’m eating less, which means I’m not sleeping well…you see where this is going. So what is my plan to get some sleep?
- Eat enough throughout the day. This might require me tracking macros/calories for a week or two.
- Carbs at night. I’m going to try and see how loading my carbs the night before I workout goes – I’ll still have something a little carby immediately post-workout but I’ll keep the majority of carb consumption to dinner time before training days.
- Eat a small carb/fat snack if I’m still hungry. An apple and coconut milk is my go-to snack before bed so this might need to make an appearance again.
I’ll also keep taking my magnesium, see if I can cycle through some melatonin (like I said, I had a crazy reaction to some new melatonin I bought so we’ll see how that goes), and I usually avoid sugar before bed so that’s not an issue.
Tell me: Do you have any before bed foods or snacks that help you sleep? Do you feel like your diet impacts the quality/quantity of your sleep?
 “What is Insomina?” National Heart, Lung, & Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/inso/
 “Insmonia Causes” Mayo Clinic http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/basics/causes/con-20024293
 “Serotonin Deficiency and Food Cravings”. Kevin Cann. http://robbwolf.com/2012/10/05/serotonin-deficiency-food-cravings/
 “Diet, Stress, and Your NeuroTransmitters”. Kevin Cann. http://robbwolf.com/2012/04/26/diet-stress-biochemistry/
 “Melatonin: Not a Magic Bullet for Sleep”. Michael J. Breus, PhD. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sleep-newzzz/201102/melatonin-not-magic-bullet-sleep