How the Whole 30 is affecting my sleep

I have always had a hard time falling asleep. When I say always, I mean, at least since before 2nd grade. I don’t remember exactly when before 2nd grade, but this happened in a house that burned down when I was in the 2nd grade…so it happened before that.

My mom told me to go take a nap, and I said something like “I’ll go lay down but I won’t be able to sleep.” I wasn’t being obstinate. I wasn’t trying to get out of a nap. I just knew that when I laid down to sleep at night, I laid there and stared at the ceiling, and couldn’t sleep, so why would the nap be different?

It is awful to not be able to go to sleep. Everyone else in the world is gone to you, and you have to keep the light off or you bother your sister sleeping cattycorner from you in your room. Well, I actually didn’t do that. I read. I read and read and read and read, and when she yelled at me to turn the light off, I would say things like “just one more chapter” but that was a lie. I have actually read until the sun came up before, but that was much later, in college, when I didn’t have classes on Fridays so I didn’t need to sleep so I could get up, I thought. I read because laying in bed starting at a dark ceiling sucks.

Screaming at yourself to “Go to sleep already!” is counterproductive, to say the least. The worst is when you knew you had a big day the next day, knew you needed to go to sleep, and finally glance at the clock and it shows 2:30. So you get up to take a Tylenol PM, go to sleep, and then feel drugged the next day because you didn’t get 8 hours for the effects to wear off.

What was/is the problem? I don’t really know. Probably hormonal, as most of my problems are.

I admit that since I got married, it is better. I don’t know if it is hearing his deep, slow, constant breathing that comforts me? If he puts his hand in the middle of my chest, like on my sternum, (or I grab his hand and put it there after he is asleep and I am having trouble falling asleep) and it is just laying there, that also helps. Yes, weird. I don’t know why that helps but it does.

I’ve done relaxing techniques where I tense my toes for 10 second, then relax them for 10 seconds and don’t let myself move them again, then up to my arches, calves, whatever muscles are around your knees, quads and hams, etc, right up to your face. Sometimes that relaxes me enough to go to sleep, but not always.

One change I have made over the years is to put blankets up over the windows, under the curtains, to make it pitch black in the room. We shut the bedroom door, there is no bright alarm clock, and there is no light at all in there. That did make a big difference once I decided that it was time to go to bed.

But my real problem is that it doesn’t occur to me to go to bed. I am not tired, I am not “wound down” whatever that means. I’ll look at the clock and it will be 10:00 then 11:00 then 12:00 then 1:00 and I’ll think, huh, I better go to bed. I have to get up in the morning…which is the attendant problem of not sleeping.

‘Cause once I do fall asleep, a bomb could go off and I wouldn’t wake up. Again, a problem I have had since I was young. Dragging me out of bed for school was not pleasant, I assure you. I am not ashamed to admit that I had to have my mom call me to make sure I was awake before for school/work. Not all the time, but if I was going through stretches where I was having an especially hard time falling asleep/waking up, I would ask and she would do it for me. I have missed 6:00 am basketball practices because I slept in. I have been late to work, late to church, not signed up for things I would like to do because I knew I couldn’t get there in time. The only time I remember getting up in the morning and being excited about it was my wedding day. I was up by 8:00 that morning with no alarm and popped right out of bed. See how twisted I am that getting up at 8:00 was a stellar day for me?

I haven’t got into the Coffee Addiction problem, thank goodness. I think it was because I was always rushing around too much in the morning to get ready to stop and make a pot. No time, you see, cause you gotta get ready to go, rush, rush, rush, because you slept too late. I was going to say “pushed snooze too long” but most of the time, I didn’t even hear the alarm to snooze it. It would just go and go. Drove my sisters crazy.

So what has changed since doing this Whole 30 this time? I don’t know if it is because of the food or because of the weight I am dropping (down 50 pounds since a year ago last April, thank you very much) but if the eating is causing the weight to drop, maybe it is both, huh? Lots of the weight has come from the belly area, as I have dropped two belt notches in the past few months, and isn’t Cortisol the hormone that both makes you put on belly fat and guides your circadian rhythm?

Well, yes, yes it is: Cortisol — Its Role in Stress, Inflammation, and Indications for Diet Therapy

I haven’t really put these things together until right now, this instant, when writing this. I suspect I have always had an adrenal problem, I knew I could never sleep and could never wake up on time. I gain weight easily and lose it very slowly. I am infertile. Well, looky here (from the article linked above):

Blood Sugar Imbalance and Diabetes
Under stressful conditions, cortisol provides the body with glucose by tapping into protein stores via gluconeogenesis in the liver. This energy can help an individual fight or flee a stressor. However, elevated cortisol over the long term consistently produces glucose, leading to increased blood sugar levels.

Theoretically, this mechanism can increase the risk for type 2 diabetes, although a causative factor is unknown.1 Since a principal function of cortisol is to thwart the effect of insulin—essentially rendering the cells insulin resistant—the body remains in a general insulin-resistant state when cortisol levels are chronically elevated. Over time, the pancreas struggles to keep up with the high demand for insulin, glucose levels in the blood remain high, the cells cannot get the sugar they need, and the cycle continues.

Weight Gain and Obesity
Repeated elevation of cortisol can lead to weight gain.2 One way is via visceral fat storage. Cortisol can mobilize triglycerides from storage and relocate them to visceral fat cells (those under the muscle, deep in the abdomen). Cortisol also aids adipocytes’ development into mature fat cells. The biochemical process at the cellular level has to do with enzyme control (11-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase), which converts cortisone to cortisol in adipose tissue. More of these enzymes in the visceral fat cells may mean greater amounts of cortisol produced at the tissue level, adding insult to injury (since the adrenals are already pumping out cortisol). Also, visceral fat cells have more cortisol receptors than subcutaneous fat.

A second way in which cortisol may be involved in weight gain goes back to the blood sugar-insulin problem. Consistently high blood glucose levels along with insulin suppression lead to cells that are starved of glucose. But those cells are crying out for energy, and one way to regulate is to send hunger signals to the brain. This can lead to overeating. And, of course, unused glucose is eventually stored as body fat.

Another connection is cortisol’s effect on appetite and cravings for high-calorie foods. Studies have demonstrated a direct association between cortisol levels and calorie intake in populations of women.3 Cortisol may directly influence appetite and cravings by binding to hypothalamus receptors in the brain. Cortisol also indirectly influences appetite by modulating other hormones and stress responsive factors known to stimulate appetite.

Immune System Suppression
Cortisol functions to reduce inflammation in the body, which is good, but over time, these efforts to reduce inflammation also suppress the immune system. Chronic inflammation, caused by lifestyle factors such as poor diet and stress, helps to keep cortisol levels soaring, wreaking havoc on the immune system. An unchecked immune system responding to unabated inflammation can lead to myriad problems: an increased susceptibility to colds and other illnesses, an increased risk of cancer, the tendency to develop food allergies, an increased risk of an assortment of gastrointestinal issues (because a healthy intestine is dependent on a healthy immune system), and possibly an increased risk of autoimmune disease.4,5

Gastrointestinal Problems
Cortisol activates the sympathetic nervous system, causing all of the physiologic responses previously described. As a rule, the parasympathetic nervous system must then be suppressed, since the two systems cannot operate simultaneously. The parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated during quiet activities such as eating, which is important because for the body to best use food energy, enzymes and hormones controlling digestion and absorption must be working at their peak performance.

Imagine what goes on in a cortisol-flooded, stressed-out body when food is consumed: Digestion and absorption are compromised, indigestion develops, and the mucosal lining becomes irritated and inflamed. This may sound familiar. Ulcers are more common during stressful times, and many people with irritable bowel syndrome and colitis report improvement in their symptoms when they master stress management.5 And, of course, the resulting mucosal inflammation leads to the increased production of cortisol, and the cycle continues as the body becomes increasingly taxed.4

Cardiovascular Disease
As we’ve seen, cortisol constricts blood vessels and increases blood pressure to enhance the delivery of oxygenated blood. This is advantageous for fight-or-flight situations but not perpetually. Over time, such arterial constriction and high blood pressure can lead to vessel damage and plaque buildup—the perfect scenario for a heart attack. This may explain why stressed-out type A (and the newly recognized type D) personalities are at significantly greater risk for heart disease than the more relaxed type B personalities.6

Fertility Problems
Elevated cortisol relating to prolonged stress can lend itself to erectile dysfunction or the disruption of normal ovulation and menstrual cycles. Furthermore, the androgenic sex hormones are produced in the same glands as cortisol and epinephrine, so excess cortisol production may hamper optimal production of these sex hormones.5

Other Issues
Long-term stress and elevated cortisol may also be linked to insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome, thyroid disorders, dementia, depression, and other conditions.4,5

Check, check and check, huh? I guess this will be a topic of conversation at my next doctor’s appointment.

But what exactly prompted me to write this now? Well…I was tired last night. At 10:30. Wut? I was tired “early” the night before, too. I got up this morning before my alarm clock. These are not normal things for me. These are…scary things? Out of the ordinary for sure.

I think that eating the way I have been, with meats, vegetables, fruit, vinegars and spices, etc., has done something extremely positive other than decrease my waist line. Hopefully the rest of the list I had to check off from the article above is reset the same way.

2 thoughts on “How the Whole 30 is affecting my sleep

  1. Andrea Young

    As the sister sleeping catty-corner, that sounds very familiar! I never realized that you couldn’t sleep; I just thought you liked to read! I’m glad your seeing unexpected results!

    1. Chrissy Post author

      Once, when I was in high school, I went downstairs and outside around 3:00 or so after tossing and turning to run 1/2 mile and jump rope. Didn’t help.


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