Refined carbs, added sugars may trigger insomnia

December 16, 2019 in Healthy Eating, Menopause, Nutrition Topics in the News, Women's Health

Refined carbs, added sugars may trigger insomnia

Postmenopausal women who eat a diet high in added sugars and refined carbohydrates may have greater risk of developing insomnia, a new study from Columbia University suggests.

Women whose diets included higher amounts of vegetables, fibre and whole fruit were less likely to develop insomnia.

Previous studies have explored 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.

About the new study

For the current study, the researchers 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.

High glycemic carbs spike insulin, stress hormones

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 sugary beverages –  have a higher glycemic index, causing a more rapid increase in blood sugar.

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.

The researchers hypothesized that the rapid spikes in blood sugar after eating refined carbs may trigger insomnia.

They 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.

Whole fruits contain sugar, but the fibre in them slows the rate of absorption to help prevent spikes in blood sugar.

Since 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.

Source: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, December 11, 2019.

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