Since my diagnosis of celiac disease just over three years ago, lack of sleep has been a symptom that has not improved, and quite frankly, I’m tired of it. My alarm went off at 5:45 am this morning and I feel back to sleep and woke up at 7:11 am, how ’convenient’…get it…because of the 7/11 convenience stores…I digress.
I went from being a morning bird who could get up with the sun, most days, at 5-6 am and be able to get on with my day. Truthfully, some days was an absolute struggle but not as bad as it is now. For the last year, I have been setting my alarm at 5:30 am and not being able to get out of bed until 7 or 8 am and this is with going to bed at 9 or 10 pm. I have to peel myself out of bed to get up at those times. One reason this can be a struggle right now, is the quality of sleep I am getting at night, meaning, what quality of sleep? I can fall asleep pretty quickly, however, I wake up 4-6 times a night where I will open my eyes and fall right back to sleep. There have been one or two nights in the last three years that I have woken up wide awake and unable to fall back to sleep for hours.
This disrupted sleep has impacted my energy, focus and motivation throughout the day. Why am I tell you all of this? Because there was one month that I ate a hypoallergenic diet where I ate only whole foods and nothing processed. I kid you not, after a few weeks on this diet, I slept like a baby – right through the night! Then I started eating out at restaurants and eating processed foods again, and my symptoms of celiac disease all came right back. This had me thinking, can the health of your gut have an effect on the quality of your sleep? Sure enough, it does.
Gluten consumption, regardless if it is intentional or an accidental exposure through cross contamination, could possibly cause problems with your sleep if you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Keep in mind, not a lot of research has been done in this field of celiac disease, however, the little research that has been done is leaning towards a confirmation of this fact.
Many people who cannot handle gluten suffer from fatigue – this is one of the most common symptoms in both celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Getting to sleep and staying asleep seem to be very common problems before diagnosis and even after diagnosis while following a gluten free diet.
Is it malnutrition?
Due to the malnutrition that occurs with people who have celiac disease from the intestinal damage caused by gluten, it is a very educated guess that malnutrition may be the culprit to sleep disturbances. However, a 2010 study concluded that the sleep problems do not seem to be stemming from malnutrition as people with celiac disease who have been following a gluten free diet for 6 years continued to have sleeping problems. This also would not make sense for the sleep disruptions experience by the gluten sensitive as consuming gluten does not cause intestinal damage in those individuals.
So if it is not malnutrition, what could be the cause of decreased sleep?
Gluten ingestion has not been proven to be the culprit to sleep disturbances in people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities. Dr. Rodney Ford, a New Zealand pediatrician, gastroenterologist, allergist, and author of “The Gluten Syndrome,” hypothesizes that gluten in the diet of someone with either of these conditions affects their brain and other neurological tissue directly causing these symptoms, however, there is no research confirming these accusations.
Personally for myself and I know for many other celiac’s, 6-12 hours after an accidental gluten exposure (ie. being glutened), and having symptoms specific to celiac disease, my sleep disturbances are heightened and about a thousand times worse.
Could it be other symptoms of celiac disease disturbing your good night sleep?
Symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhea and constipation could be disturbing your sleep, but if you are not experiencing any of these symptoms, consider the following other possible symptoms.
Acid reflux and heartburn: This can happen during the day at at night, but stomach acid coming up your esophagus into your mouth or even lungs is not great anytime of day. People who snore or have obstructive sleep apnea are at special risk for this.
Anemia/iron deficiency: This is a personal symptom of mine that I have had since high school and has yet to improve. This condition is famously related to restless leg syndrome, this is a condition that causes a very uncomfortable sensation into the legs usually at moments of rest but can also happen during the day. This may disrupt sleep by causing the individual to have to get up walk around and stretch their legs to decrease the symptoms before trying to fall back to sleep.
Anxiety and depression: Having medical issues of any kind can often lead to problems with mental health. When this happens, one common outcome is a negative influence on sleep quality. Unfortunately, poor sleep tends to exacerbate anxiety and depression. This makes it hard for the person with celiac (or any other chronic illness) to enjoy a good quality of life.
Fatigue: If a person is fatigued, you would think they would be able to sleep through the night. However, this is a common symptom among all individuals with an autoimmune disease. The problem with this symptom is the constant napping during the day that may be required. Napping can disrupt your natural circadian rhythm and can cause insomnia.
Headaches and joint pain: Pain of any kind can be one of sleep’s biggest enemies. Headaches and joint pain can disrupt sleep or can cause an individual to struggle falling asleep. To add, the anti-inflammatory drugs one may take to decrease symptoms, could interfere with sleep.
So the real question is, what can we do to improve our quality of sleep?
As mentioned above, when I went a month without eating any processed foods I felt like Wonder Woman. I had no symptoms of celiac disease, I was sleeping through the night and I felt better then I have my whole life. Did you know that there are very small amounts of gluten found in gluten free labeled foods? It has been said that the small amounts of gluten found in these foods may not affect all celiacs, but may affect some. If you are anything like I am, you may need to drop most, if not all processed foods from your diet and stick to whole foods to see a difference in your sleep and other celiac symptoms. After two and a half years after first following a whole food diet, I am finally cluing in that this is the key for myself personally to get a good night sleep and feeling like Wonder Womqn again. I will be venturing into this diet starting this week, if all goes well, I will make another blog post on my progress!
Another way to improve your quality of sleep is to follow a good night time routine of ditching the bedroom TV, no artificial lighting before bed, and avoiding unnecessary naps.
Jordá FC, López vivancos J. Fatigue as a determinant of health in patients with celiac disease. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2010;44(6):423-7. doi:10.1097/MCG.0b013e3181c41d12
Zingone F, Siniscalchi M, Capone P, et al. The quality of sleep in patients with coeliac disease. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2010;32(8):1031-6. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2036.2010.04432.x
Ford RP. The gluten syndrome: a neurological disease. Med Hypotheses. 2009;73(3):438-40. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2009.03.037
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