Is Your Diet Keeping You up at Night?

New study finds close links between certain foods and insomnia
January 6, 2020 Updated: January 6, 2020
FONT BFONT SText size

If you had a big bowl of pasta and some chocolate cake for dessert, it might explain why you’re having trouble sleeping. New research has found a close association between diet and insomnia that might help you answer the perplexing question of why you can’t sleep.

These new findings are likely part of a larger picture, with other factors including screen time, stress, and sleep apnea contributing to widespread insomnia.

On the food side, Americans eat a lot of “refined” carbs. Foods like white bread and pasta, cake, cookies, sugary sweets, and drinks are central components of the “Standard American Diet.” Insomnia is becoming a standard part of American life as well, with estimates suggesting that roughly 30 percent of the population suffers from it.

A recent study from Columbia University in New York looked at diet-linked fluctuations in blood sugar and sleep. Researchers focused on the glycemic index of food—how much and how quickly they boost blood sugar—to assess sleep patterns.

According to the lead author of the study James Gangswichm, “when blood sugar is raised quickly, your body reacts by producing insulin, and the resulting drop in blood sugar can lead to the release of hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which can interfere in sleep.”

Looking at food diaries completed by 50,000 older women as part of the ongoing Women’s Health Study, a clear association emerged between high refined-carbohydrate content and insomnia.

On the other hand, those who ate more vegetables, whole fruits, and fiber were much less likely to go through bouts of insomnia and more likely to report high-quality sleep.

The researchers believe the same results would be found across age groups and genders.

Sleep quality is likely determined by a number of factors, however, it might be heavily influenced by food choices. The nutrients and compounds, or those missing, in various foods cause your body to react in different ways; some conducive to sleep, others not.

If you’re experiencing trouble sleeping at night and practice decent sleep hygiene, consider looking to your diet. Try eating less refined foods and more whole foods, and foods rich in fiber. You may get the quality shut-eye you desire.

Mohan Garikiparithi holds a degree in medicine from Osmania University (University of Health Sciences). This article was originally published on Bel Marra Health.