Can Food Allergies Cause Sleep Apnea?

A balanced, nutritional diet is key to maintaining good overall health. However, those who struggle with food allergies find they are intolerant to certain foods, and this can impact their sleep. What we eat already affects the quality of our important restorative sleep, but a sensitivity to certain foods could be aggravating your sleep apnea.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder which causes your breathing to briefly stop, forcing you to awake for air, possibly gasping. This can happen frequently through the night, even hundreds of times. Around 25 million Americans are estimated to experience this sleep disorder, with obstructive sleep apnea the most common form. Those with obstructive sleep apnea will experience breathing difficulties as they sleep due to a narrowing or blockage of the upper airways.

The interruptions to sleep are called apneas and may last only a few seconds, but they can happen so frequently that excessive daytime fatigue is a common symptom. If you suffer with food allergies you may be at risk of developing sleep apnea, or increasing its severity if already experiencing the disorder.

Why Might Food Allergies Cause Sleep Apnea?

When someone is exposed to allergens they are sensitive toward, it prompts a reaction from the body’s immune system. This reaction results in inflammation in the body and a swelling of tissues, which in turn leads to an increase in the production of mucus. The impact of increased levels of mucus is blocked airways, which reduces the flow of oxygen to the brain.

As obstructive sleep apnea is caused by a narrowing or a blockage of the airways, any condition such as a food allergy that causes the airways to block further can trigger the sleep disorder. 

If you are unaware you are allergic to certain foods, then frequent nights of poor sleep as a result of sleep apnea could be the outcome.

Anyone already experiencing sleep apnea symptoms, including frequent night-time awakenings, loud snoring and daytime fatigue, may see the disorder made worse by their food allergies. Anything which causes increased levels of mucus, such as a food allergy, can trigger increased apneas as you sleep.

What To Do If You Suspect Food Affects Your Sleep

It is estimated 32 million Americans have a food allergy. If you suspect certain foods could be affecting the quality of your sleep, first try cutting them out of your diet and seeing if this has a positive impact. 

Keeping a basic food diary logging what you eat and if there were any side effects is also an effective way to try and pinpoint the foods which may be causing your sleep issues.

If you do suffer with food allergies, you can work with your doctor or nutritionist on finding the foods you can eat, as well as how to replace those you cannot without sacrificing any nutritional benefits they provided. Some of the foods which can cause sleep issues may be surprising to some.

  • Bananas – while a favorite for its mineral benefits such as potassium, bananas can add to the levels of mucus production
  • High-fat meats – Those steaks and hamburgers may be tasty, but unfortunately, they could be leading to inflammation.
  • Dairy – an intolerance of diary, particular high-fat diary such as whole fat milk, can also lead to increased mucus production

By increasing mucus production and causing inflammation, these foods may cause the airways to block and increase the risk of sleep apnea.

Foods You Should Eat

It is not all bad news, as there are plenty of common food items which you can eat when you suspect certain foods are causing your sleeping problems.

  • Nuts such as walnuts, almonds and pistachios contain high amounts of minerals including magnesium and zinc which help produce melatonin, a hormone which helps control your sleep.
  • Fatty fish have good levels of Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids which help in the production of serotonin, a hormone which helps us sleep.
  • Carbohydrate rich food like rice can also help with the sleep/wake according to research.

The Importance of Diagnosis

When you suspect you have a food allergy, having it confirmed by a doctor will help you obtain the information that sees you eat the right foods to avoid triggering an allergic reaction and negatively impacting your sleep. 

Similarly, diagnosis is key with obstructive sleep apnea in order to work out the best treatment plan to reduce or eliminate the symptoms.

If you or your partner notice the symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea you should consult your doctor who can arrange a sleep test. Symptoms include:

  • Frequent abrupt awakenings for air
  • Excessive day time fatigue
  • Loud snoring
  • Morning headaches
  • Poor concentration
  • Irritability

Sleep apnea left undiagnosed can lead to serious health complications such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. However, the symptoms can be managed through treatment, once diagnosed, returning you to proper nights of restorative sleep.

Food allergies can increase the risk of sleep apnea since they cause inflammation and increase mucus production. If you are aware of your intolerance to certain foods you should consult with your doctor to evaluate whether your allergies are leading to a poor quality of sleep due to obstructive sleep apnea.

A SleepQuest Sleep Care Specialist is available to discuss your sleep problems and to help you get optimal treatment.