Did you know that nearly half of the world’s population suffers from insomnia? These truly chilling statistics become even less optimistic when you understand that insomnia increases your risk of other diseases, such as cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and depression, to name just a few. Furthermore, scientists aren’t sure what’s causing the condition. We know anxiety, stress, and depression are all contributing factors, but it turns out that science behind insomnia is even more nuanced than we initially thought, as even certain foods may increase your risk of insomnia.
How Are Diet and Insomnia Connected?
The link between diet and insomnia is rather new, with previous studies suggesting that certain food habits may affect our sleep quality. Namely, a diet high in carbohydrates has been observed to interfere with sleep patterns, whereas dairy products, fish, fruit, and vegetables, have been shown to benefit sleep quality, though only in minor studies.
However, a more recent large scale longitudinal study from the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons got even more specific results, establishing a link between foods high in refined carbs (and sugar in particular) with insomnia.
Though quite large in size, researching the diet and sleep patterns of 53,069 participants, the study looked only at women past the age of 50. However, the researchers point out that the correlation between refined carbs and insomnia was quite strong and they recommend patients suffering from insomnia irrespective of their age and gender to try and avoid foods with added sugar, sodas, sugary drinks, white rice, pastries, and white bread, at least in evening meals.
The authors believe that the sugar spikes are to blame for the increased risk of insomnia, and foods high in refined carbs are known to cause these spikes. According to the authors, sugar spikes trigger the release of stress hormones, which can make you feel sleepless.
Unlike refined carbohydrates, fruits are safe to eat at night, the researchers point out. This is because they contain plenty of fiber that promotes steady digestion, which is reflected in the study results as well, as participants who ate fruit at night didn't seem to experience insomnia. The takeaway message is - eat more fruit and less refined carbs in the evening to prevent insomnia, especially if you're a woman past the age of 50.