Wednesday 27 July 2011

30 days. No cheese.

Coincidentally, my decision to not eat cheese for a period comes just as I found that TED Talk last night about trying something new for 30 days. In fact, yesterday was my Day 1 of no cheese. Here's the thing...

I love cheese. My favourite food is cheese and crackers and I prefer my lunchtime cheese and tomato sandwich to most other options. I don't eat volumes of cheese - for no other reason than self-restraint - but I do love it. My favourites are fairly plain, like emmental, Tussers and Woolies' Daily Cheese. Toss in some low-fat cottage cheese on toast, a sprinkle of feta in a salad, a treat of plain goat cheese, a wedge of Laughing Cow or a wee slice of Brie and I'm delightfully happy.

A few months back I got this idea that if I eat cheese at night I struggle even more to wake up in the morning than usual. I surfed around on the web but found nothing to this effect. There was a 2005 study by the British Cheese Board around whether eating cheese before bed caused nightmares. The study only showed that, depending on the cheese, sleep quality was improved and that dreams became more colourful and vivid than normal but that cheese didn't induce nightmares. My problem with the study was that they gave 200 study participants not more than 30g of cheese each night - that barely covers a Provita!  [And, in addition, they has no non-cheese-eating control subjects, which makes this a bit of a flawed and subjective experiment that seems more an exercise in public relations. I would have gone with EEGs...]

Anyway, I left my research at that and for a long time I haven't munched cheese at late at night; but on the whole waking up is never easy, even after a good 8hr sleep.

I didn't really think about this again until Monday morning, when I woke up feeling like a truck had driven over me. The reason for this, I think, was that I went to a cheese and wine on Sunday afternoon and then because I didn't have anything for dinner, I had a cheese and tomato sandwich about 30 minutes before I went to bed. As I don't drink wine, we can eliminate that puppy; I think cheese is my downfall. On Sunday I munched on delicious ciabatta with brie, emmental, a little of that cranberry stilton...

The culprit compound in cheese is suspected to be the amino acid tryptophan, which is said to be an effective sleep aid. Tryptophan increases brain levels of serotonin (calming neurotransmitter) and melatonin (sleep-inducing hormone).

The thing is, lots and lots of foods contain tryptophan, including milk and eggs and yoghurt and poultry and soy and chickpeas... also dates and oats. If cheese is meant to increase the vividness of dreaming, then why does tryptophan-containing milk soothe and induce restful sleep? Amount of tryptophan? Maybe.

I'm a bit more on the side of Chris, from The Naked Scientists, who says, "Cheese is a rich source of neuroactive compounds including the monoamine called 'tyramine', which has provokes the release of adrenaline." Tyramine is derived from the amino acid tryosine. He goes on to describe how, when we go to sleep, a small part of the brainstem (the locus coeruleus) switches on to trigger REM  (rapid eye movement) sleep, which occurs in the deeper sleep phases and is associated with dreaming.

The cells in this region contain neuromelanin, which he describes as "the neurological equivalent of a suntan" - they colour the cells blue. He says that neuromelanin is made as a biproduct in the synthesis of the nerve transmitters noradrenaline (a relative of adrenaline) and dopamine. These chemicals are derived from tyrosine, the same stuff used to make melanin in skin cells.

"So the locus coeruleus, which triggers dream-sleep, uses noradrenaline as its nerve transmitter. Since cheese contains tyramine, which has the ability to potentiate the action of adrenline-like nerve transmitters, it is likely that eating cheese before bed fools the brain into thinking that there is more adrenaline washing around than normal, making dreams more vivid."

I haven't noticed a cheese-induced dreaming effect, but my sleep may be more restless (I generally sleep like a dead dog no matter what) so when I wake up after a cheese night I'm still tired because I haven't slept properly?

And then there's the digestion element. Eating before sleep means your body will digest it while you sleep, which could reduce sleep quality.

Mmm... whatever the reason for my symptoms, I'll pass on cheese for the next 29 days (yesterday was Day 1) to see what happens.


adventurelisa said...

Just found online that tryamine is a big-time factor in inducing headaches in regular sufferers.

Loads of foods to avoid in a tyramine-free diet...


Haven't found anything relevant online about difficulty in waking up.

Anonymous said...

great post, but i don't think it will convince me to give up cheese ever. i love it too! i thought cheese was plegm forming and that's why you might feel heavy in the mornings.

i'm feeling kind of hungry now.

adventurelisa said...

I would have thought that having cheese on a sammie at lunch time should have no effect... well, we'll see. Three days without cheese so far.

Yesterday morning I woke up about 15 mins before my alarm. This morning I woke up with my alarm but feeling 'awake' (not refreshed, just awake instead of groggy) - and after going to bed at 1am. Mmmm... Jury still out.

If you do a search on "difficulty waking up" you find out about people battling with idiopathic hypersomina. Wooooo, I don't have it that bad, fortunately.

One thing I am in agreement with them about is that I rarely, if ever, wake up feeling refreshed, even after a 9hr sleep.

Laura said...

So....what was the verdict, and are you back to cheese (the staff of life, I make my own!!) I'm also a career insomniac and nothing I eat or drink makes me sleepy if I'm just not.

adventurelisa said...

Hi Laura,

I loooovvveee cheese! Always have and probably always will.

Here's the thing (a bit of a story here)... In March last year I went to Thailand for two weeks to have a holiday and do a Thai massage course. For two weeks I didn't have a drop of dairy. No tea with milk, no cereal with milk (not that I eat this usually anyway), no yoghurt (my weakness too) and no cheese.

For many months I'd definitely been feeling lung tightness when running - not normal work activities, just running. Something wasn't right but I hadn't been able to pin it down.

But in Thailand I was running easy and lungs were light again. I came home and for the first few days I didn't have yoghurt or cheese at home. Then, I went to the shops and stocked up, especially on yoghurt. Within a day my chest was tight. I swore off dairy.

I've been mostly good with this since. I have the occasional splash of dairy but for the rest I avoid it. If I go somewhere and there is some dairy in the food, no biggie. But I haven't bought a tub of yoghurt since April last year.

There are so many foods I can easily do without and the vegan substitutions of nut creams are nice, but they're not yoghurt.

Interestingly, when I do have a dose of dairy, I do have tighter lungs on my run. *sigh*

Anonymous said...

I experienced bouts of palpitations, (including paroxysmal tachycardia) from the age of fourteen to my present age of 86. A few months ago the symptoms became even more acute with episodes of very rapid heart beat occurring everyday, lasting anything from 30 minutes to several hours. With no help from a local practice I began to wonder how long could my ageing heart go on ticking.
Researching the problem using data from several studies I took the drastic step of cutting cheese and chocolate completely from my diet. Two days later the problem disappeared and to date it seems like a complete cure.those two foods have one thing in common,they each contain TYRAMINE. I hope no one reading this doesn't regard it as miracle cure. If you have a similar problem consult you physician first.