Insomnia is often treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy or medications, but these can be expensive or carry side effects.
In a recent study from Columbia University, researchers found that a diet high in refined carbohydrates—particularly added sugars — may trigger insomnia and reduce sleep quality.
On the other hand, a diet high in vegetables, fiber, and whole fruit (not juice) is linked to a lower risk of insomnia.
The study is published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The lead author is James Gangwisch, Ph.D.
Previous studies have shown a possible link between refined carbohydrates and insomnia, 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 way to determine if carb intake is causing sleep problems is to look for the emergence of insomnia in people with different diets.
In this study, the team gathered data from more than 50,000 participants in the Women’s Health Initiative who had completed food diaries.
They looked at whether women with higher dietary glycemic index were more likely to develop insomnia.
Different 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.
The team 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 found that people who consumed more vegetables and whole fruits (not juices) were less likely to develop insomnia.
The team says when blood sugar is raised quickly, the 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.
Whole fruits contain sugar, but the fiber in them slows the rate of absorption to help prevent spikes in blood sugar.
These findings that the dietary culprit triggering insomnia is the highly processed foods that contain larger amounts of refined sugars that aren’t found naturally in food.
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