Over 50 & Struggling To Sleep? Refined Carbs May Be To Blame

mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant By Sarah Regan
mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant
Sarah Regan is a writer, registered yoga instructor, and Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Image by BONNIN STUDIO / Stocksy

New research has identified a common culprit that may be behind insomnia symptoms: refined carbohydrates

Anyone who's ever tossed and turned trying to fall asleep knows it can be a frustrating thing. But for people with insomnia, or roughly 10% of the adult population, lack of sleep can become debilitating.

In a study by Columbia University, researchers studied the diets of postmenopausal women. A diet high in refined carbs, they found, was linked to insomnia while a diet high in fiber, fruits, and veggies was not.

How refined carbs affect sleep.

The object of the study was to find out if carbs cause sleep issues. Researchers examined the food diaries of 50,000 women in relation to sleeping trends, looking especially at glycemic indexes.  

And what they found suggests the higher the glycemic index in foods, the greater the risk of insomnia, because of how those foods (think white bread, added sugar, white rice, etc.) affect blood sugar. 

James Gangwisch, Ph.D., senior author of the study, says, "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."

And unlike with processed carbs, the women with diets high in fruits and vegetables were less likely to experience insomnia.

"Whole fruits contain sugar, but the fiber in them slow[s] the rate of absorption to help prevent spikes in blood sugar," Gangwisch notes. "This suggests that the dietary culprit triggering the women's insomnia was the highly processed foods that contain larger amounts of refined sugars that aren't found naturally in food."

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An insomnia intervention.

Chronic insomnia can lead to a lot of other issues, like depression and hypertension, so for those suffering, getting enough sleep is paramount. Additionally, the study points out that women are more likely to develop insomnia.

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

Even though this study focused on only postmenopausal women, researchers believe these findings would likely apply to most people, since everyone's blood sugar is affected by what they eat.

And while avoiding those pesky refined carbs might be easier said than done, if you're looking to improve your health and get more sleep, it would be in your best interest.

Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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