Many people living with celiac disease suffer from sleep disorders of one kind or another. This can take various forms, from occasional sleep disturbances to sleep apnea, which is characterized by abnormally long pauses in breathing. Many celiacs also suffer from depression and anxiety which can affect sleep cycles.
In addition, restless leg syndrome, which is experienced by some celiacs, has the effect of disturbing sleep. In fact some people consider that sleep disorders are so common among celiacs that it could be considered as a symptom of celiac disease.
In a recent study carried out in Italy of 30 newly-diagnosed celiac adults and 30 adults who had been following a gluten-free diet for 6 years, the researchers compared the quality of sleep of the two groups. They found that sleep disorders were directly related to depression, anxiety and fatigue. They also found that sleep problems did not improve after 6 years of a gluten-free diet. The researchers concluded that the lower the patients’ quality of life the more likely they were to suffer with sleep disorders.
Anyone who has ever received a piece of bad news and felt the corresponding lurch in their stomach is vaguely aware of the relationship between the brain and the gut. However, few people are aware of the existence of a direct gut-brain connection. The gut also has a ‘brain’ called the enteric nervous system, sometimes referred to as the body’s second brain. The vagus nerve extends from the base of the brain right down into the abdomen, which accounts for phenomena such as ‘gut feelings’ and butterflies in the stomach, as well as why a late-night snack can give you nightmares.
The enteric nervous system also contains millions of nerve cells, hormones and neurotransmitters just like the brain in your head. The gut even secretes pain-relieving chemicals called benzodiazepines, similar to Valium, which are delivered to the brain when you experience pain.
Amazingly, both the brain and the gut are subject to 90-minute sleep cycles. In the same way that slow wave sleep is interrupted by rapid-eye movement sleep, slow muscle movements in the gut are interspersed with short bursts of rapid muscle movements.
So what can you do to improve sleep?
- Avoid eating just before going to bed and keep evening meals light.
- Watch your consumption of caffeine in the late afternoon and evening.
- Reduce fluid intake in the evenings, to avoid having to get up in the night to use the bathroom.
- Watch your consumption of known digestive irritants for evening meals.
- Keep a regular bedtime routine and go to bed by 10 o’clock to avoid getting a ‘second wind’ which can happen around midnight.
- Don’t exercise just before bed as this can keep you awake.
Leave us a comment below if you have any other tips that help you get a restful nights sleep.