Being gluten sensitive or intolerant has gained a lot of attention in recent years, no doubt spurred by celebs like The View’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck who has written a book about living a “G-free” life. Also called celiac disease, this condition is caused by an allergic reaction within the inner lining of the small intestine to proteins (gluten) that are present in wheat, rye, barley and, to a lesser extent, in oats. The body’s immune response causes inflammation that destroys the lining of the small intestine, which then reduces the absorption of dietary nutrients and can lead to uncomfortable symptoms and signs of nutritional, vitamin, and mineral deficiencies.
You wouldn’t think being sensitive to gluten would have any effect on sleep, but there is in fact a strong connection. A team of researchers recently found that people with this condition—even those following a gluten-free diet—commonly suffer from sleep disorders that are related to depression, anxiety, and fatigue. It is, to put it mildly, a vicious cycle:
- When you’re tired and down, you’re not likely to sleep well, which can then play into digestive issues.
- Add to that a sensitivity to an ingredient as ubiquitous as gluten and there’s bound to be trouble.
- The reverse holds true as well: when your eating life is challenged by celiac, you run a higher risk of having physical ailments that hinder restful sleep.
Since anxiety and depression both occur at higher rates in people with celiac disease than in the general population, the researchers were curious to see how celiac disease might affect quality of sleep. In addition to finding that sleep disorders commonly affect people with celiac disease, regardless of gluten-free status, they also found that sleep disorders are less common in celiacs who score higher on quality of life scales, while those with low quality of life scores suffer at higher rates.