Nearly every person I talk with that labels themselves as an insomniac has the same pattern. They do not have trouble falling to sleep. They have big time trouble staying a sleep. Most people have the exact same experience that I did for the 13 years I took a sleep aid. I would come home late from work, eat dinner about 7:30 or 8:00 PM, hunker down for my favorite 9:00 TV show like NYPD Blue, and promptly pass out 15-20 minutes into it. My wife would be elbowing me as I snored, trying to get me to wake up or to go on to bed. BUT, I was dead to the world. I would finally peel myself off the sofa about 10:30 or so and stumble off to bed. Then, I would wake up like a shot about 1 or 2 AM and not be able to go back to sleep. The sleep aid helped most nights, but some times it did nothing. Does this sound at all familiar?
I get a lot of head nodding or spousal elbowing going on in the exam room as I describe this pattern. It is extremely common as it turns out. This form of insomnia is taking over this nation to the extent that medical textbooks say that it is “normal” for people over 60 to experience it to some degree or another. Say what? If we are at all like dogs, we need more sleep as we get older, not less. How could this be so common that it has been considered “normal”?
Those who have read my work on epilepsy have a head start here. The culprits are the same guys: the depressants- casomorphins and gliadorphins- and the neurostimulants glutamate and aspartate. The passing out after meals is caused by the rush of casomorphins (from the cheese, ice cream, etc.) and gliadorphins (bread, pasta, cookies, etc) into the brain, which is nearly saturated with them. This saturation takes time, with it hitting me in my early thirties. My wife was beginning to think that I was a narcoleptic or something. One minute I was there talking or watching television and the next I was in la-la land, snoring up a storm.
But the foods that have the downers also have the “antidote”. This is the beauty of it all. However, the antidotes come at an inopportune time for the insomniac. The glutamate and aspartate take about 4-6 hours to hit the brain after the parent foods are ingested. That puts these neurostimulating antidotes hitting the depressed (but “uploaded”…see the pain paper) brain about one or two in the morning, a predictable amount of time after dinner and dessert. The pizza, pasta, macaroni and cheese, and cheeseburgers followed by the cookies, ice cream, brownies, and chocolate candy all add up, don’t they? If you throw in an appetizer of peanuts or cheese and crackers then you really have a tumultuous night ahead.
When I found out that I had celiac disease, I had to eliminate all of the wheat-containing meals and desserts. My sleeping improved quickly. When I subsequently realized that I was more milk intolerant than I first thought (as the wheat was masking the severity), I dropped all dairy products, which led to my freedom from prescription sleep aids. Once I studied the a chart that showed the glutamate and aspartate content of the foods we eat, it became even more clear why my wife and I had shared this cycle of recurrent restless nights with so many Americans.
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