Skip to main content

High-Glycemic Diet Tied to Insomnia in Older Women

December 19, 2019

By Lisa Rapaport

(Reuters Health) - Older women who eat lots of sweets and processed grains may be more likely to suffer from insomnia than counterparts who consume few of these foods, a U.S. study suggests.

Researchers examined data from food diaries for more than 50,000 women in their mid-60s who had already gone through menopause, a transition that is also associated with an increased risk of sleep problems and insomnia. They focused on the associations between dietary glycemic index and prevalent or incident insomnia.

Women in the highest quintile for dietary glycemic index scores were 11% more likely than women in the lowest quintile to report insomnia at the start of the study period.

They were also 16% more likely to develop new insomnia during the three-year follow-up period.

"Our results point to the importance of diet for those who suffer from insomnia," said James Gangwisch of the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City, who led the study.

"Avoiding insomnia is therefore another good reason to avoid sweets besides weight control," Gangwisch said by email.

While the study wasn't designed to prove whether or how eating too many sweets and refined carbs might directly cause insomnia, it's possible that hormonal changes may play a role.

"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," Gangwisch said.

Insomnia disproportionately affects women, the study team notes in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

One limitation of the current study is that researchers didn't objectively measure food intake, the quantity or quality of sleep, or any shifts in blood sugar or hormones.

It's also possible that chronic insomnia contributed to cravings for carbs or sweets, rather than women developing insomnia as a result of eating too much sugar and refined grains, Jose Ordovas, director of Nutrition and Genomics at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston, pointed out.

"Using these findings as the basis for prevention and treatment of insomnia is extremely premature," Ordovas, who wasn't involved in the study, said by email.

Doctors often recommend a low-glycemic diet to people who need to lower or control their blood sugar, including individuals with diabetes, or who need to lose weight or develop healthier eating habits, Gangwisch said. Better sleep could be yet another reason to eat this way.

"The take-home message here is to limit the consumption of highly processed carbohydrates such as added sugars since they could contribute toward, or exacerbate insomnia," Gangwisch said.

SOURCE: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online December 11, 2019.

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2019. Click For Restrictions -

Back to Top