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Gluten and sleep disturbance

Posted on August 10th, 2008 by Alison Read 38 Comments - Add Your Own »


Someone asked me recently if there is a connection between gluten intolerance and restless sleep or other sleep disturbances. Yes, was my immediate answer, based on my own experience and that of my friend’s husband. I then did a search to see if there were any studies related to celiac and sleep — I came up with no medical studies. I did however come up with a slew of personal stories about sleep disturbances and gluten, and even dairy and soy.

First, my story… I used to be a restless sleeper. I moved around a lot throughout the night. I had too-vivid dreams. I did this strange thing where I would rub my feet together in a certain way before I could settle down to sleep. I had leg cramps. I also had tingling and shooting pain at times in my toes and legs. Sometimes I was nauseous during the night. I was often congested. I snored (attractive, no?). I even had sleep paralysis a couple of times — if you have never experienced this, it is an awful state in which your mind wakes before your body and you are unable to move although you are awake. I actually didn’t even remember this until I began reading about other people’s sleep problems as related to gluten and found a number of people who suffered from sleep paralysis until going gluten-free. Amazing. And my sleep since being gluten-free? I sleep calmly. I hardly move. I can breathe!

Then there is the story of my friend’s husband who had restless leg syndrome. I remember her telling me that every morning she would have to massage his legs because they would be in knots from their involuntary activity all night long. As my friend searched for a treatment for him (other than the medication the doctors wanted to prescribe), she found that gluten could be a cause of restless leg syndrome. This discovery was a powerful one — once gluten-free, his restless leg syndrome went away. You can read all of Lan-Ping’s story.

Want to hear more? Here are a couple of articles that link restless leg syndrome to celiac disease (or a mineral deficiency caused by celiac):

Click the link below to enter a forum focused on gluten and sleep and read about the connections people have found between gluten and restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, nightmares, insomnia, and even getting up too often to go to the bathroom. There are 10 pages of related topics, so be sure to click to the next pages.

I would love to hear any personal experience you have with sleep issues and gluten or other foods. Please comment below!

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  1. I have both the restless legs and Sleep Apnea along with my Celiac but some of the leg problems are caused from the Diabetes I also have. My problem is mainly I can fall asleep to much. I have done so at my computer, watching TV, and even sitting in my swing outside. One day I will have lots of pep and the next I can hardly put one foot in front of the other. It’s gotten so I have to take a nap to get through some days.

  2. Our son had terrible sleeping problems and often woke in the middle of the night. He averaged between 7-8 hours of sleep at night as a toddler and was very hyper prior to going to bed. After putting him on a gluten free (and all natural diet) he began sleeping through the night and sleeping an average of 11 hours daily. I was also very congested at night prior to going gluten free. I also had tingling and numbness issues with my hands and feet. Both resolved themselves when I started to eat like my son.

  3. HLA-DQB1*0602, one of the main genes that predisposes to non-celiac gluten sensitivity, also predisposes to narcolepsy. It seems pretty obvious that there is a strong connection between gluten intolerance and sleep problems. It’s sad that so little research has been done.

  4. For the last year, I have had a hard time sleeping. First I would get to sleep, but would wake up several times a might and would fall back to sleep. In the last few months, I have nights where I cannot get to sleep at all. I started taking the bio-hormones a couple of months ago, and I am still having a hard time sleeping. The doctor thinks I may be gluten intolerant, but has yet to test me for it. I do have alot of tummy troubles ( Acid relux disease ) and take Nexium everyday. Could my problems be gluten intolerance??

  5. When glutened, I have an undeniable link to not being able to sleep.

    The first night is the worst, wide awake till 3 or 4 am and then only small 1 hour interludes of restless sleep till I”m finally glad it’s morning and I can just get up.

    I used to think I was simply a sensitive sleeper (I wear ear plugs) but after realizing I had a gluten intolerance and abstained, I slept better than I had in years. What a relief! The connection was very clear and immediate.

    Now, it’s a matter of not getting contaminated which unless making all of my own food myself is hard to maintain. I’m not sure if the sleeplessness is related to the body being uncomfortable, tense, and upset, or if there is actually another symptom because I often feel really wired like I had a pot of coffee.

    I hope they will find a cure or fix for this, I can’t say how many terrible nights from gluten have made my days unproductive and miserable.

  6. That second paragraph is pretty much me at night time. I too rub my feet together to get to sleep (and when I wake up) and am woken by numbness and tingling in my legs and feet. I have sleep paralysis if I wake up then go to sleep again to soon, and often (like right now!) wake up for a few hours in the night feeling nauseous.Not to mention the daytime nausea. Thank you for this post, I’m going to suggest celiac disease to my doctor and hope it’s the answer!

  7. I had major sleep problems before diagnosis and the recommended cure which worked was to take an antidepressant. Unfortunately they had undesirable side effects so I went off with some difficulty, but after my diagnosis which I got after my own insistence ( my aunt was diagnosed at 50 after coming close to death and she is now 85) when my nutritionist friend dragged me to a Shelly Case workshop for dieticians, I sleep like a baby. If I am not sleeping from a likely gluten poisoning I take an antihistamine like Reactine and I am sleeping like a baby in no time. I discovered this after having a year long series of anaphylaxis reactions that started about a month after my diagnosis. They have disappeared now but I do have lesser reactions to some allergens. The longer on the gf diet the better I feel. Funny, reading about the foot rubbing brought back memories. Thanks Alison – I have read lots about celiac and visited many sites and yours stands out as tops. I used to fall asleep on my desk at school sometimes too; and sometimes just lay my head down and cried after the day was over from exhaustion.

  8. I am amazed at how well I sleep now. I hope that Peggy and Lucy have checked to see if they might be gluten intolerant – please comment again and let me know! I also recently found that if I eat dairy at night, I am stuffed up. So now if I want ice cream, I eat coconut milk (non-dairy) ice cream.

    Thank you everyone for your comments and Jane for your kind words about the site. Glad it is helping!

  9. This is so interesting to hear about other people’s experience. I too have Celiac disease and have had really painful cramps in my calves and throughout my legs, so bad that in the middle of the night I will wake up with screaming pain and have to walk around and move to change the position. . . then I use an old remedy that my Grandma recommends: a shot of pickle juice! . . . Before going gluten free I did experience sleep paralysis as well, which is extremely unpleasant. Things are much better though, now that I am g-free!

  10. JB,
    I wonder what is in pickle juice that could help with leg cramps! I haven’t heard that one! I almost never get leg cramps now.

  11. Funny, I thought I was the only one that rubbed their feet together in order to fall asleep LOL. My ex-husband used to call me Jiminey Cricket! Had no idea that sleep paraylsis was actually what it is. Just thought it was one of the worst nightmares I had ever had…continually! Wow. Please tell me where I can find out more info about the mineral deficiency that can be caused by celiac…I am interested to know more about that.

    Great site, thank you

  12. Jennifer,
    Restless Leg Syndrome is associated with low iron levels, which can be caused by celiac.

  13. I didn’t really know what good sleep was, until going gluten & dairy free. Had trouble falling asleep, restless, woke several times a night. I probably was only getting 3-4 hours on a good night. Now I fall asleep easily, very seldom wake in the night and feel a LOT more rested when I wake up. With the other problems that I had related to gluten & dairy, I wish more doctors would even think to MENTION trying a change in diet for some medical issues.

  14. I’m curious how long it took for people to experience better sleep after going gluten free?

  15. My adult daughter has had trouble sleeping as long as I can remember. She moved to Alaska and we thought it was due to the day and night they have there. She went dairy free several months ago and she has a health issue so she bought a book to see what she could do to improve her situation and they suggested going gluten free. She has been gluten free for two weeks and it has been remarkable how her sleep issues have been resolved. Who would believe a gluten free and diary free diet would make such a difference.

  16. Melanie,
    Thank you for sharing the story of your daughter! It’s great that her sleep issues have been resolved!

  17. I have recently been searching for information about the gluten free diet. I have never been able to really lose weight that well and I have a very tough time sleeping. I am tired all day long then at night I will feel better and more alert I can usually fall asleep easily but then wake up all through the night sometimes up for a long period of time before falling back asleep. I am curious to see if I were to go gluten free if I would be able to sleep. As long as I can remember I have not slept well. A good diet change might help!

  18. Sarah,
    It couldn’t hurt! If you feel you need a diagnosis, ask to be tested for celiac disease before you begin a gluten-free diet (being gluten-free can affect the test results). If not, try a gluten-free diet, but do it 100% to be effective. Good luck!

  19. OMG, my 2 year old has been gluten free for literally 3 1/2 days. It was in an effort to get the all day long screaming and fit throwing and whining under controll. We seen results the 1st day. I had no idea that the blood curling screams all night long would also cease. The 1st night he woke only once, last night-not at all (very usual) we shall see what tonight brings. We just thought he was being bad at night. I can’t believe that it was gluten.

  20. Crystal,
    Amazing! Thanks so much for leaving that comment. I wonder about night terrors in children.

  21. My 3 year old daughter barely slept from the day she was born. She was diagnosed with GERD and could not leave the hospital for 5 days because she would/could not drink milk. They literally had to feed her with a medicine cup and put drops on her lips. But I am straying off topic, sorry. So she never slept, maybe 20 minutes at a time, even at night. She would scream and cry and it was the most terrible thing ever. She eventually slept better but never through the night. Then, during her second endoscope they found that her villi were severely damaged and we immediately took her off gluten. Within DAYS, I mean this literally, she was sleeping through the night. Her little belly no longer looked like a pregnant child,a large distended belly. Her mood improved 150%, her appetite came back. She stopped being so “picky,” all of which made me happy but not as much as the sleeping through the night. It totally amazes me what gluten can do to your body. I am so thankful that at 3 we found this out and she did not have to suffer for years. I am also thankful for this site. It is truly nothing short of amazing! Thanks.

  22. It’s interesting to find others share such similar issues with sleep disorders, breathing and gluten. After 47 years of this and nearly three years as gluten-free resulted in better sleep for me. I recognized a difference right away, but even now there’s I’m finding more improvement. Cherie’s story of her daughter, reminds me of my mother’s recollections of my childhood. (I became a temperamental, underweight adult with severe bone issues) Until I became gluten-free postponing sleep was my pattern and waking was swollen faced, congested and miserable. My bed was always torn apart, I slept walked, snored, kicked and hogged the bed. I had frightening sleep paralysis including once, having to have my back pounded on,to force me to breath. Usually it was just open eye sleep that freaked others out, but I didn’t recall or believe this until it started happening in my mid forties. In my early 30′s dreaming suddenly stopped. But, recently my dreams returned- first with occasional nightmares, and lately vague dream recall more often than not. My bed isn’t a mess. I’m not waking open eyed unable to move, and waking in the morning is a nice experience.

  23. I am a 47 year old male and have been gluten free for three weeks.Within days of starting this i am sleeping through the nite. For the last 8 years i would only occasionally sleep a full night.Terrible night mares , soaked in my own sweat, wake up fighting for breath because i wasnt breathing. this was at least a weekly occurence if not every other day.i went this route after my daughter was diagnosed a celiac( my test showed i am not). This is not a very clinical test but this has been the best three weeks in a long time, and of course the bloating and pain, loose bowel movements have stopped. I also did the foot rubbing thing to fall asleep, it has stopped and my last thing is my exceema has improved, not gone but better. Also have lost 5 lbs, I cant wait to talk to my doctor

  24. I have an almost 3yr old (next month) who doesn’t sleep, up every 2 hours and no naps during the day. When he was about a yr old I put him on a gluten free diet (was already dairy free because of intolerances) to see if it would clear up his loose bowel problems and it did within days and he slept better but I didn’t connect that at the time. Then we got lazy and went off the diet and the bowel issues didn’t come back so we thought maybe he out grew it. Then the other day I read a blog where a lady mentioned her daughter won’t sleep if ingesting gluten so decided to go GF again and now 4 days later he is only waking once during the night for last 2 days and before if he was in bed with me he would rub his feet on my legs continuously and he’s stopped that. Now after reading all the stories hear maybe I can get my husband to go on the diet to see if it helps his sleep apnea and pain, numb and tingling hands and recently he’s having pain in his feet. Thanks for sharing all the stories.

  25. Laurie,
    Crazy stuff! Thanks for sharing your experience.

  26. George,
    Please report back after you talk to your doctor — would love to know his/her reaction! That’s great that you are seeing such a difference.

  27. Lisa,
    The numb and tingling hands is definitely a symptom of a gluten problem (it’s called peripheral neuropathy), along with the other things you mentioned. I just met a woman who had pain in her shoulder for 2 years. After being gluten-free for 2 weeks, the pain was gone and comes back if she accidentally eats gluten! Tell your husband that!

  28. I have had a problem that showed up on my sleep study. Basically, during phases of “deep” sleep, I still have “active” brain waves, meaning that I have a hard time getting quality sleep. They didn’t have a reason for this or a cure. I have had a hard time waking up in the morning for 10 years along with a variety of other aches, pains and general not feeling well. I tested negative for Celiac’s, but a cousin has it and we thought I should try gluten free to see if it helps any of these problems. I just started, any tips? Thank you.

  29. I went gluten free 4 months ago. Since then my I do not seem to be getting any deep sleep. I do not have a problem falling a sleep. The problem is I wake up after a few hours of sleep (last night it was just after 2 hours of sleep and I was really tired!) and have trouble getting back to sleep. I stay in bad, trying to sleep. Eventually I go back to sleep but, very light sleep, any little noise I wake up. In the mornings I do not feel rested. I do not have the energy levels I used and my blood pressure is much lower than usual. I understand a lot of Celiacs have sleep problems. I hope there is a solution for this. It is really affecting everything in my life.

  30. I was told to trial going ‘gluten free’ as my Traditional Chinese Medicine Dr suspected gluten intolerance based on my symptoms (which no dr had managed to diagnose the cause of despite many years of me complaining about it and many tests). Constant poor sleep was one of my symtoms – trouble falling asleep, constantly waking up throughout the night, and then always exhausted come morning. I could not remember a night where I had slept all the way through.

    The first night after cutting gluten I slept better than I’ve slept in YEARS. I then slept constant 8-10 hour sessions night in night out for weeks (except when I accidentally had gluten in my dinner – learning curves), but I was still waking up absolutely exhausted. My Dr suspected it was my body catching up on sleep debt, but I persisted with the gluten free because my acne cleared up, I lost a huge amount of weight in a month, I was less moody, no more indigestion, acid reflux, no more heart palpitations, no more tingling/weakness in arms, hands and feet and most importantly to me – NO MORE MIGRAINES!

    Anyway, I’m also two months into my gluten free existence and the great sleep and other benefits continue, however I seem to have caught up on my sleep debt because for the first time in my LIFE I am waking up WIDE AWAKE and able to get out of bed without struggling.

    I literally feel like a new person and yes, a definite connection to sleep!

  31. Gluten was the cause of my restless legs syndrome, my headaches, my brain fog and my chronic fatigue. I sleep better now and I feel great.

  32. I went gluten free 3 months ago to solve chronic leaky gut type symptoms. I have also suffered for years with insomnia. A happy surprise with my gluten free diet is that I am sleeping through the night for the first time in over 12 or 15 years. I started looking online to see if there was a connection. It seems that many are connecting it to B vitamins. I’m not sure what to attribute it to, but it makes sense that after years of diarrhea that there could be some vitamin deficiency. So whenever I am tempted to eat something processed with gluten, I think about how much better my life is now that I don’t have stomach issues and I actually get to sleep more than 5 or 6 hours a night.

  33. every time i eat gluten i cant sleep for crap. i hate this disease, people say its treatable and managable but its not. i was almost a gluten free purist for 2 years. then i took a trip with my family and the temptation and convenience of eating what was available overcame me. i found that i actually managed to adequately tolerate a wide array of foods that i figured were forbidden for me and ever since this, i slip up all the time now.

    what kind of a world is it where you cant eat a candy bar, drink a soda, have a beer, eat some fast food, etc? it is a hell! when i realized how much i was missing out by going back to gluten foods (occasinoally) i couldnt help myself anymore. now i eat something with gluten in it almost weekly. its too impossible not to for me because of convenience, price and satisfaction. sometimes i get horrible cramps and cant sleep.. other times i do fine.

    right now im suffering because i made a bad decision to eat a hamburger. i was too lazy and not thinking properly to remember to ask for it low carb (carls jr) so i just ate it. havent slept since. gurgling gut cramps. it is hell. im up on hour 25 right now. i tried to take a nap but i still cant. what happens to me is once i cant sleep like this it takes me DAYS to figure out how to get my brain to shut back down.

    so. this disease is a hell. and there is no aid for it. no test. no cure. it makes me really hate the world and ive become very intolerant of just about everything in life as a whole now. i wish there was some justice for this disease… it seems to be artifically constructed to screw up a percentage of the population. the compelling fact is the realization that this small percentage of the population is growing. thanks monsanto

  34. Hi,
    I am 52, in excellent health, and in shape, although probably about 15 lbs heavier than I would like to be due to menopause.
    I switched to a wheat free diet, not because I was experiencing any symptoms, but to see if it would help me lose some of that stubborn midsection weight gain.
    The first thing I noticed is that I have been sleeping like a rock. I used to get up 3- 4 times a night to pee, drink some water (vicious cycle). Now I fall asleep immediately and STAY asleep for 8 solid hours. Its incredible.

  35. Just yesterday I was researching gluten and weight gain; especially in the belly. My friend gave up gluten recently and lost 5 pound almost immediately. I had a lot of gluten yesterday (hot dog bun, cookies) I slept fitfully last night. Including weird dreams. I was diagnosed with narcolepsy when I was 35. I have had it all my life and it actually got better when I hit menopause. Now I’m wondering if there is a connection. I also get migraines leg cramps. I gave up all my gluten yesterday so we’ll see. I haven’t slept through the night in years so that would be a lovely side effect of being gluten free. By the way some of the symptoms of Narcolepsy are sleep paralysis and night terrors.

  36. Wow! Thank you all for your experiences. My daughter was allergic to my breast milk when she was born. She finally was able to drink neocate formula, without getting colitis. We started her on milk and she seemed fine. She is now 7 years old and has been sickly every winter since a toddler (misses 2 months of school and every X-Mas) She has asthma, eczema, and a tactile sensory condition ( not fun for any parent). After years of every specialist and no answers….I brought her to a naturopathic. Her biggest allergy is to dairy products, but was elevated in soy, gluten, egg, etc. I am having the hardest time with meats….do they all inject dairy product in some form? She was just diagnosed three days ago and I have seen a huge difference in her stomach aches and mood. I gave her some baked buddaball ham last night and today…..her whole body turned into hives and itching where she was sobbing. HELP!

  37. i think that when you look at food keep it simple, carrot is carrot , apple is apple, seasoned frozen chicken ? if it has a ingredients list its time to be careful. processed foods are a minefield ,it is tough to do but foods that are only themselves are the best way to go till you figure out your triggers and avoid eczema improved when i stopped dairy, my nightmares went away when i stopped beef, my bloating and bowel problems went away when i stopped gluten and eggs and soy, i have been doing this for 4 years and i am 50 and have improved my life , its hard to do at first but may show good results

  38. I have a minor case of microscopic colitis,and also have lactose intolerance, and insomnia. I heard that lactose intolerance was related to gluten problems so I went gluten free- it was very easy. Then instead of taking lactaid I went dairy free also. Then – surprsise! I started sleeping like a baby. I had been having some bloating and that diminished. I slacked off and now I feel bloated and I am not sleeping as well. I am not into fad diets but I can tell you this is real.

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