An estimated 30% of adults experience insomnia, and a new study by researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons suggests that diet may be partly to blame.
The study found that postmenopausal women who consumed a diet high in refined carbohydrates–particularly added sugars–were more likely to develop insomnia.
Women whose diet included higher amounts of vegetables, fiber, and whole fruit (not juice) were less likely to develop problems with insomnia.
“Insomnia is often treated with cognitive behavioral therapy or medications, but these can be expensive or carry side effects,” says the study’s senior author James Gangwisch, PhD, assistant professor at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.
“By identifying other factors that lead to insomnia, we may find straightforward and low-cost interventions with fewer potential side effects.”
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.
“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,” says Gangwisch.