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Higher refined carb intake linked to insomnia

Researchers say doctors should keep diet in mind when treating the condition

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Photo (c) Tero Vesalainen - Getty Images
Getting enough sleep is crucial for consumers’ mental and physical well-being, but for those who struggle with insomnia, the nighttime hours can feel daunting and anxiety-inducing. 

Now, researchers from Columbia University Irving Medical Center have link another risk factor to insomnia: refined carbs. According to their study, consumers who have a higher intake of refined carbs are increasing their likelihood for the condition. 

“Insomnia is often treated with cognitive behavioral therapy or medications, but these can be expensive or carry side effects,” said researcher James Gangwisch, PhD. “By identifying other factors that lead to insomnia, we may find straightforward and low-cost interventions with fewer potential side effects.” 

How diet affects sleep

Utilizing data from the Women’s Health Initiative, the researchers gained access to over 50,000 women’s food diaries, which they used to determine what relationship different dietary patterns had with insomnia. 

The study revealed that those who had a more well-rounded diet that incorporated more fruits and vegetables into their daily meals and snacks were less likely to develop insomnia. However, those who ate more refined carbs, like white rice or white bread, were more likely to experience insomnia. The risk for insomnia was highest when consumers compounded a diet high in refined carbs with foods and drinks that were high in added sugar

The researchers hypothesized that the way the body responds to higher sugar or carb intake could be at the heart of insomnia-related symptoms. They explained that blood sugar levels can fluctuate, which, in turn, can affect the production of other hormones, many of which can affect sleeping patterns. 

“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,” said Dr. Gangwisch. 

Improving diet to improve sleep

Moving forward, the researchers want to encourage more experts to consider dietary interventions as a possibility for consumers struggling with insomnia, as treatments for the condition can be difficult to implement. 

“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,” said Gangwisch. 

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