Sleep, sweets and carbs: Sugar and white bread may be linked to insomnia in older women
05/22/2021 / By Brocky Wilson / Comments
Sleep, sweets and carbs: Sugar and white bread may be linked to insomnia in older women

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that makes it difficult for you to fall or stay asleep. It can be quite frustrating to be an insomniac because you tend to feel tired and distracted in the morning instead of well-rested. You may have even tried all sorts of exercises to fall asleep but nothing seems to work.

But what if the problem is the food you eat? According to a recent study, older women who eat a lot of sweets and white bread are more likely to develop insomnia than those who don’t eat much of these foods.

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Insomnia more common in women than men

Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders in the United States. Out of 50 to 70 million Americans suffering from a sleep disorder, around 40 percent have the condition, with ten percent having chronic insomnia.

Women are twice as likely to develop insomnia as men due in part to fluctuations in their menstrual cycles. Studies show that boys’ quality of sleep is no different than that of girls before the start of puberty. But sleep problems begin after girls get their first periods. Big hormonal imbalances like pregnancy and menstruation, in particular, can wreak have on your sleep schedule.

Women are also more prone to developing anxiety, depression and other mood disorders, each of which can negatively impact sleep quality. That’s because many of the same chemicals in your brain that are disrupted by these disorders are also involved in regulating sleep.

Insomnia linked to eating too much sugar and white bread

For their study, researchers examined the food diaries of more than 50,000 women in their mid-60s who had gone through menopause. They calculated the glycemic rating of the women’s diet using the glycemic index (GI), a scale that measures how fast and how much a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood sugar levels.

Low GI foods do not cause your blood sugar to rise as much as high GI foods because they are digested more slowly. Examples of low GI foods are oats and non-starchy vegetables while high GI foods include sugary foods and white bread.

The researchers found that women with the highest GI scores were 11 percent more likely to report insomnia at the beginning of the study than women with the lowest scores. They were also 16 percent more likely to redevelop insomnia during the three-year follow-up period.

“Our results point to the importance of diet for those who suffer from insomnia,” James Gangwisch, a psychiatry professor at Columbia University and the lead researcher of the study, told Reuters. “Avoiding insomnia is therefore another good reason to avoid sweets besides weight control.”

Gangwisch surmised that refined carbs contribute to insomnia because they cause hormonal changes. He explained that when your blood sugar increases quickly, your body releases the hormone insulin to regulate the amount of sugar in your blood. This then returns your blood sugar to normal, which triggers the release of hormones that could interfere with your sleep.

Healthcare practitioners recommend a low glycemic index diet to people who need to lower or control their blood sugar, including diabetics and overweight or obese individuals. But better sleep could be another reason to follow this diet, Gangwisch said.

How to do a low glycemic index diet for better sleep

A low GI diet emphasizes foods with a glycemic rating of below 55. If you’re already eating a diet that is low in high GI foods, then following a low GI diet should be easy for you.

A low GI diet should be comprised of healthy food choices. Take a look at the following low GI foods:

  • Fruits: apple, orange, lemon, lime, grapefruits, berries
  • Non-starchy vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, tomato, carrot
  • Whole grains: quinoa, buckwheat, farro, oats, barley
  • Legumes: lentils, black beans, kidney beans

You can also include foods without a GI value or with a very low glycemic rating, such as the following:

  • Seafood: salmon, tuna, shrimp, mackerel, anchovies, sardines
  • Poultry: chicken, turkey, duck
  • Oils: olive oil, flaxseed oil, avocado oil
  • Nuts: almonds, walnuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts
  • Seeds: chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, sesame seeds
  • Herbs and spices: turmeric, black pepper, cumin, cinnamon, dill, basil, rosemary

You should limit your intake of high GI foods. These foods include the following:

  • Bread: white bread, bagels, pita bread
  • Rice: white rice, arborio rice, jasmine rice
  • Cereals: instant oats, breakfast cereals
  • Pasta and noodles: spaghetti, ravioli, macaroni, fettuccine, lasagna
  • Starchy vegetables: potatoes and potato products like french fries
  • Pastries: cake, cookies, doughnuts, croissants, muffins
  • Snacks: chocolate, crackers, chips, pretzels, microwave popcorn
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages: soda, fruit juice, sports drinks

Eating a healthy diet is key to getting a good night’s sleep and preventing insomnia. Avoid processed carbs like sugary foods and eat more low GI foods as part of a healthy diet for better sleep.

Sources include:

Reuters.com

SleepAssociation.org

HealthBlog.UOfMHealth.org

MedicalNewsToday.com

Healthline.com

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