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Nutritional Causes of Insomnia

By August McLaughlin ; Updated August 14, 2017

Insomnia refers to difficulties falling or remaining asleep. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is one most frequently reported medical complaints, affecting over one-third of American adults at some point in their lives. Of the factors that may contribute to insomnia, several involve nutrition. By gaining understanding of diet-related causes of insomnia, people can make lifestyle changes to prevent or alleviate sleep problems. A doctor should address severe or long-lasting insomnia.

Overeating at Night

Overeating during the evening hours may prevent restful sleep. According to the Mayo Clinic, eating too much may cause physical discomfort while lying down, because eating at night stimulates the digestion process. Overeating at night can also trigger heartburn, characterized by tightness or pain in the chest, and acid reflux, which is a backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus. Both of these conditions may cause discomfort that reduces a person's ability to sleep. Overeating high-fat, greasy or spicy foods, particularly at night, may trigger heartburn, acid reflux, gas and digestive discomfort that may interfere with restful sleep.

Excessive Caffeine Intake

As a stimulant, caffeine may seem to jolt the body awake. In reality, the "buzz" from caffeine does not create or refresh restfulness. According to the National Sleep Foundation, or NSF, consuming caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, soft drinks and energy drinks, and foods that contain caffeine, such as chocolate, can create a vicious cycle of disrupted sleep. People who struggle with insomnia are more prone to reach for caffeinated foods and beverages to treat exhaustion during daytime hours. As a result, poor sleep abilities persist. In addition, the NSF explains, the more caffeine a person consumes, the more likely he is to struggle to sleep. Caffeine consumed late in the day, even in modest amounts, may disrupt sleep.

Diet Pills

People who take diet pills as a means of reducing appetite, increasing energy and losing weight may develop insomnia. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, diet pills that include stimulants herbs, such as bitter orange or ephedra, which is banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use as a diet aid, may cause increased heart rate, insomnia and other amphetamine-like complications. Diet pills that contain other stimulants, such as caffeine, ginseng, guarana or green tea extracts may also trigger sleep problems. Insomnia is also a potential side effect of prescription diet medications, such as sibutramine, known commercially as Meridia.


People who drink alcohol regularly or in excess may develop insomnia. Because alcohol is a sedative, or depressant, it may help a person fall asleep; however, the Mayo Clinic suggests that alcohol consumption prevents the stages of deep sleep, which are crucial for restful sleep. Drinking alcohol may also cause a person to wake frequently throughout the night.

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