Refined carbs may trigger insomnia in women

14 Feb Refined carbs may trigger insomnia in women

One prospective cohort study was performed recently at the Columbia University, which hypothesised that a higher GI and glycemic load would be associated with greater odds of insomnia prevalence and incidence. This study with postmenopausal women who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, investigated the relations of GI, glycemic load, other carbohydrate measures (added sugars, starch, total carbohydrate), dietary fibre, and specific carbohydrate-containing foods (whole grains, non-whole/refined grains, non-juice fruits, vegetables, dairy products) with odds of insomnia at baseline.

The presence of insomnia was measured at baseline and at 3-y follow-up using participant responses to the WHIIRS, a 5-item instrument that has been found to be a reliable and valid measure of perceived insomnia symptoms. A score of ≥9 indicates a high risk of insomnia and the need for further clinical evaluation. They refer to a score of ≥9 on the WHIIRS as insomnia throughout the article.

They explain that High glycemic index (HGI) may increase the risk of insomnia is through acute spikes and troughs in blood glucose. GI and glycemic load have been shown to provide physiologically valid estimates of postprandial glycemia and insulin demand in healthy individuals, they say in their discussion.

Symptoms of counter-regulatory hormone responses can include heart palpitations, tremor, cold sweats, paresthesia, anxiety, irritability, and hunger. Hypoglycemia has been shown to produce arousal from sleep and substantially reduce sleep efficiency in non-diabetic adults. High blood sugar from carbohydrate consumption can initially make one drowsy, helping one to fall asleep, but the compensatory hyperinsulinemia and counter-regulatory hormone responses can awaken one from sleep.

The study found that postmenopausal women who consumed a diet high in refined carbohydrates — particularly added sugars — were more likely to develop insomnia. By contrast, higher non-juice fruit and vegetable intakes were significantly associated with lower odds of incident insomnia. Also, higher intakes of dietary fibre, whole grains, non-juice fruit, and vegetables were significantly associated with lower odds of prevalent insomnia.


James E Gangwisch, Lauren Hale, Marie-Pierre St-Onge, Lydia Choi, Erin S LeBlanc, Dolores Malaspina, Mark G Opler, Aladdin H Shadyab, James M Shikany, Linda Snetselaar, Oleg Zaslavsky, Dorothy Lane, High glycemic index and glycemic load diets as risk factors for insomnia: analyses from the Women’s Health Initiative, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 111, Issue 2, February 2020, Pages 429–439,

Also cited in

Columbia University Irving Medical Center. (2019, December 11). Refined carbs may trigger insomnia, finds study. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 13, 2020 from