Worldwide, an estimated 30% of adults experience insomnia
, and a new study by researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons suggests that diet may be partly to blame. The study found that postmenopausal women who consumed a diet high in refined carbohydrates
particularly added sugars were more likely to develop insomnia
Females whose diet included higher amounts of vegetables, fiber, and whole fruit (not juice) were less likely to develop problems with insomnia
or simple carbohydrates
include sugars and refined grains that have been stripped of all bran, fiber, and nutrients. These include white bread, pizza dough, pasta, pastries, white flour, white rice, sweet desserts, sodas, pastries, and many breakfast cereals and processed foods.
Dr James Gangwisch, Ph.D., assistant professor at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons told Thailand Medical
is often treated with cognitive behavioral therapy or medications, but these can be expensive or carry side effects. By identifying other factors that lead to insomnia
, we may find straightforward and low-cost interventions with fewer potential side effects."
The findings were published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Past studies have explored a possible link between refined carbohydrates
, but results have been inconsistent. And because the studies didn't follow individuals over time, it's not clear if a diet that's high in refined carbs
triggered the onset of insomnia
, or if insomnia
caused individuals to eat more sweets.
One manner to determine if carb intake is causing sleep problems is to look for the emergence of insomnia
in people with different diets.
For this study, Dr Gangwisch and his team gathered data from more than 50,000 participants in the Women's Health Initiative who had completed food diaries. The researchers looked at whether women with higher dietary glycemic index were more likely to develop insomnia
Various kinds and amounts of carbohydrates increase blood sugar levels to varying degrees. Highly refined carbohydrates such as added sugars, white bread, white rice, and soda have a higher glycemic index, and cause a more rapid increase in blood sugar.
Dr Gangwisch added, "When blood sugar is raised quickly, your body reacts by releasing insulin
, and the resulting drop in blood sugar can lead to the release of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which c
an interfere with sleep."
The medical researchers hypothesized that the rapid spikes and troughs in blood sugar after eating refined carbs may trigger insomnia
The researchers found that the higher the dietary glycemic index particularly when fueled by the consumption of added sugars and processed grains, the greater the risk of developing insomnia
. They also discovered that women who consumed more vegetables and whole fruits (not juices) were less likely to develop insomnia
Dr Gangwisch said, "Whole fruits contain sugar, but the fiber in them slow the rate of absorption to help prevent spikes in blood sugar. This suggests that the dietary culprit triggering the women's insomnia
was the highly processed foods that contain larger amounts of refined carbs
that aren't found naturally in food."
As most people, not just postmenopausal women, experience a rapid rise in blood sugar after eating refined carbohydrates
, the authors suspect that these findings may also hold true in a broader population.
Dr Gangwisch concluded, "Based on our findings, we would need randomized clinical trials to determine if a dietary intervention, focused on increasing the consumption of whole foods and complex carbohydrates, could be used to prevent and treat insomnia
Reference: High glycemic index and glycemic load diets as risk factors for insomnia: analyses from the Women's Health Initiative ,James E Gangwisch, Lauren Hale, Marie-Pierre St-Onge, Lydia Choi, Erin S LeBlanc ...The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, nqz275, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqz275