It isn’t well known that eggs (large amounts) can cause insomnia nor that caffeine — in special cases — can reduce insomnia. But a reader named BM recently made those discoveries:
Back around July 2012, I was trying to improve my diet but I didn’t want to give up my vegetarianism, so I started to eat a LOT of eggs, usually in the range of 10 to 14 per day. Not long after, I started having awful insomnia. I could lie awake all night just unable to fall asleep. There were suddenly just too many thoughts buzzing through my head keeping me up. I assumed that it was a result of ketosis disturbing sleep. I tried reintroducing carbs, but when that didn’t work I gave up on dietary modifications. I started cycling through OTC sleep aids, but I developed tolerance to anticholinergics very quickly.
By October 2013, I was going crazy. I couldn’t sleep well. It was making me depressed and seriously impairing my academic performance. I was exhausted constantly, but then I noticed something. I slept better when I consumed a lot of caffeine in the morning. I noticed there was a clear dose dependent relationship between how much caffeine I consumed and how well I slept. I had a hunch that the caffeine was depleting my acetylcholine levels, serving a similar function as OTC anticholinergics like diphenhydramine and kava.
I wondered what would happen if I sharply reduced my intake of acetylcholine precursors. A lot of people advertise eggs as “choline packed”, so I cut back to less than 3 per day. Suddenly, I was sleeping much better. Now, it could be something else in the eggs (I’m not really attached to my choline hypothesis), but either way I feel confident blaming them for my sleep troubles. My insomnia returns whenever I start eating them again.
I asked him why he hadn’t realized earlier that eating so many eggs was the problem. He replied:
I just didn’t think there was anything special about the eggs. I googled around for it and the only things I could find were about ketosis induced insomnia, so it didn’t occur to me that eggs specifically were likely to be problematic. I tried consuming enough carbs to knock myself out of ketosis, but when that didn’t improve the situation, I just assumed that something else was going on aside from diet. Eggs seemed like the perfect food. Cheap, nutrient rich, paleo, easy to prepare, and compatible with my (then) vegetarianism. It would have been hard for me to find a suitable replacement, so while the idea of testing it probably occurred to me, performing the test itself wouldn’t be trivial and the results wouldn’t be actionable.
As it got worse, I tried treating it more aggressively with OTC sleep aids, and that worked well enough that I stopped worrying about it. I wasn’t sleeping great, but it was enough to get by. Eventually they stopped working, but not long after that I made the caffeine connection and decided to try removing eggs. It was easier to do at that point because I had given up on paleo and vegetarianism and could just substitute chicken and sprouted lentils, and I had a (probably
incorrect) neurochemical explanation to support it. Moreover, it had become VERY difficult to eat the eggs. My body just didn’t want to consume them and I had to slowly force them down. Something seemed to know it was bad for me, but I wasn’t listening to the signs. My behavior was not at all rational, and believe me after I discovered eggs were the problem I was kicking myself for not trying it sooner.
I asked him what he learned from this, apart from how to sleep better. He replied:
- Costly experiments sometimes need to be performed.
- Sometimes your values are bad for your health.
- Don’t give up just because there’s no evidence to support a hypothesis.
- Simple things can easily go unnoticed.
Those are good lessons.