It is estimated 30% of people suffer from insomnia. A recent study done on postmenopausal women consuming a diet high in refined carbohydrates, added sugars, were more prone to developing insomnia. Those women whose diet included lots of fiber, vegetables, and whole fruit had less risk of developing insomnia (1)
Medications and/or cognitive behavioral therapy is often used for treating insomnia but can be costly and medications have side effects. There are identification methods that can identify factors believed to cause insomnia, which can be less expensive and no side effects.
One method for determining if carbohydrate intake is the cause of sleep problems is to look for the appearance of insomnia in individuals with different diets.
When the body is eating a high, refined carbohydrate diet, it causes the body to release insulin. The higher the refined carbohydrates on the glycemic index the more blood sugars spike. This quick spike in blood sugar can end up releasing other hormones besides insulin. It causes a release of cortisol and adrenaline. Both of which can interfere with sleep.
Researchers have hypothesized that these rapid spikes and then dips in blood sugar following the consumption of refined carbohydrates could be triggering insomnia. The risk is greater the higher the food is on the glycemic index.
There are ways to combat these spikes though. The number one way is consuming less refined carbohydrates, especially at dinner time. Some other ways include eating foods high in tryptophan. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid and creates serotonin in the body. Serotonin stabilizes mood and helps you relax. Consuming foods high in tryptophan levels promotes sleep. Foods that are high in tryptophan include: tofu, milk, cheese, red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, oats, beans, lentils, and eggs, nuts and seeds, bananas, honey, and eggs.
If you are having problems getting back to sleep, team up a high-carbohydrate snack with diary to boost tryptophan levels in the blood.
Other ways to help include eating light meals, eating dinner early. Avoid high fat meals after 5 pm. These types of meals cause your digestive track to have to work harder. Also, spicy foods can aggravate acid-reflux making it uncomfortable to lie down and sleep. You want to make sure that you are consuming plenty of fluids but consume them earlier in the day, so you are not getting up and down at night to pee. Don’t tank on water at least 2 hours before bedtime to prevent you from having to get up multiple times a night to pee. No caffeine at least 4-5 hours prior to sleepy time. No coffee, chocolate, colas, or tea. Also, your nighttime cocktail (alcohol) may knock you out, but it can lead to nightmares, having to get up to pee, night sweats, snoring, headaches, migraines, and restless sleep. Quit drinking at least 4-6 hours before going to bed.
All these things along with reducing refined carbohydrate consumption can lead to a more restful sleep.
Reference 1: Study from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. High glycemic load diets as risk factors for insomnia: analyses from the Women’s Health Initiative: https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article-abstract/111/2/429/5673520