- New research on postmenopausal women found those who ate a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar were more likely to suffer from insomnia.
- In contrast, researchers found that postmenopausal women who ate more fiber, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, were less likely to have insomnia.
- These findings add to existing research on how sleep and nutrition are linked.
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Refined carbs and sugar are infamous as weight-loss nightmares, and now new research suggests they may be keeping you awake, too.
In the study, published December 12 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that postmenopausal women who ate a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugars were more likely to suffer from insomnia, or difficulty falling or staying asleep, than those with healthier diets.
To come to their conclusion, the study authors from several American universities gathered observational data from 50,000 women who had completed food diaries as part of a separate study. They found that those who reported consuming more refined carbohydrates – like white bread, processed foods, and added sugars – were up to 15% more likely to experience insomnia that those who ate more whole foods, fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
The researchers believe that’s because refined carbohydrates and sugars like white bread and soda are rated more highly on the glycemic index, meaning they spike your blood sugar more quickly than lower-glycemic index foods like brown rice or veggies.
“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 can interfere with sleep,” lead author James Gangwisch, assistant professor of clinical psychiatric social work at Columbia University, said in a university press release.
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But a high-fiber diets may help prevent sleeplessness
The good news is that the research may also point toward a way to prevent insomnia, without medication. The study also found that a high-fiber diet, with lots of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, lowered the risk of sleepless nights. Fiber can help slow the rate at which your body absorbs glucose, Gangwisch said in the press release, which can prevent the problematic spikes in blood sugar.
More studies, including randomized clinical trials, are needed to see if changing your diet to include more complex carbs and fiber could help cure or prevent insomnia, but Gangwisch said the results are promising.
“Insomnia is often treated with cognitive behavioral therapy or medications, but these can be expensive or carry side effects,” he said. “By identifying other factors that lead to insomnia, we may find straightforward and low-cost interventions with fewer potential side effects.”