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Can Gluten Intolerance Cause Insomnia?

By Khadejah Makkieh ; Updated August 14, 2017

Insomnia, or the inability to sleep, is a disruptive and often life-altering sleep disorder that can be attributed to several different factors, including your diet. Many people who suffer from gluten intolerance also suffer from insomnia. The connection between gluten intolerance and insomnia can be made by investigating some secondary symptoms of gluten intolerance, such as vitamin B-12 deficiency and androgen fatigue, which may alter sleep.

Gluten Intolerance

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and oats. People who are gluten intolerant are not able to digest this protein, which results in gluten passing through the small intestine undigested. The undigested gluten can irritate the lining of the intestine and cause it to become inflamed and damaged. This can cause symptoms such as stomach pain, nausea, bloating and weight loss. Since the small intestine is responsible for absorbing nutrients, damage to the intestine may also result in nutrient deficiencies.

Vitamin B-12 Deficiency

One of the common nutrient deficiencies associated with gluten intolerance is vitamin B-12. To be absorbed, B-12 needs to be transported to the small intestine by specific transport proteins. Gluten intolerance can slow down your body's production of these transport proteins. This results in less vitamin B-12 reaching the intestine, where absorption is also less effective due to intestinal damage. This deficiency of vitamin B-12 is significant because vitamin B-12 plays an important role in promoting sleep and regulating the sleep cycle. Without enough vitamin B-12, sleep disruptions can occur and develop into insomnia.

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Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal glands also play an important role in sleep. Adrenal glands are responsible for relieving the different stresses your body encounters by releasing stress hormones. If you are gluten intolerant and eat foods containing gluten, the adrenal glands release hormones to relieve your inflamed intestine. If this persists, over time the adrenal glands can become fatigued and unable to produce enough stress hormones to manage your body's stress. When your adrenal glands are not able to control stress, your body is not able to remain in a steady comfortable state for sleep.

Considerations and Treatment

If you suffer from insomnia, ask your doctor to test you for gluten intolerance as a possible cause. Treatment will vary depending on the severity of intolerance and the mechanism by which gluten may be causing the insomnia. Some treatment options may be B-12 supplementation, stress hormone supplementation, attempting to lead a less stressful life or going on a completely gluten-free diet. Consult your doctor before starting any new supplements.

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