I’ve written plenty about the longevity benefits of a healthy diet, shrewd supplementation and regular exercise. And now, based on a slew of scientific studies, let’s talk about another crucial facet to healthy aging … sleep.

Contrary to common belief, sleep is a busy time for your body. Those hours of shut-eye are when your entire body and brain “reboots.”

Because of this, adequate sleep is essential for overall health, which in turn adds years to your life. That’s why a new study linking certain kinds of food to chronic insomnia is important news. Read on for the details.

If you suffer from insomnia you’re not alone. According to the National Sleep Foundation, almost half of all people in the United States experience some insomnia symptoms each year.1

Research suggests that if you’re sleeping less than eight hours a night, you may have a higher risk of cardiovascular issues, diabetes, other chronic diseases, depression and hypertension.2 Add up all these health problems, and it’s not surprising that poor sleep is linked to lower life expectancy.

Columbia Study Shows Refined Carbs Trigger Insomnia

Past research pointed to a link between diet and sleep quality.3 But now a new study from Columbia University discovered that when women 50 years and older ate a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar they were more likely to suffer from insomnia.4

The study drew from observational data of 53,069 female participants aged 50 to 79, all of whom had enrolled in the Women’s Health Observational Study5 between September 1994 and December 1998.

Now please be aware, these findings are based on observational or “self-reported” data, which can be suspect. Still, some noteworthy trends emerged.

The Problem is Blood Sugar

Researchers found that those women who reported eating more refined carbs – like white bread, processed food and added sugars – were up to 15 percent more likely to struggle with insomnia than those who ate more whole foods, fruits, veggies and whole grains.

Why does this type of diet disturb sleep? Researchers believe that it’s because these refined carbs are high on the glycemic index. This means they cause blood sugar to spike more quickly than lower-glycemic index foods such as high fiber fruits and vegetables.

Lead author James Gangwisch discussed the significance of the findings in a Columbia University press release.6

“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,” according to Gangwisch, a PhD and assistant professor.

The researchers discovered that women who consumed more vegetables and whole fruits were less likely to develop insomnia. The same is not true for juices, which take out the fiber and concentrate the sugars contained in fruit.

“Whole fruits contain sugar, but the fiber in them slows the rate of absorption to help prevent spikes in blood sugar,” Gangwisch notes. “This suggests that the dietary culprit triggering the women’s insomnia was the highly processed foods that contain larger amounts of refined sugars that aren’t found naturally in food.”

While the study involved women, it’s safe to say that these findings likely apply to men as well.

Yet Another Reason to Eat a Healthy Diet

A healthy diet, exercise and sleep are all interconnected. Getting the adequate amount of sleep each night is essential for making daily healthy lifestyle decisions.

Sleep allows the cells in your muscles, organs and brain to renew and repair daily. Plus, sleep helps regulate your metabolism and how your body releases hormones. When you’re not getting enough sleep, these processes suffer, increasing your risk of health issues.

Data from three large studies reveals that sleeping five hours or less per night increases mortality risk from all causes by roughly 15 percent.7

“By identifying other factors that lead to insomnia, we may find straightforward and low-cost interventions with fewer potential side effects,” Prof. Gangwisch concludes.

A healthy diet is just one way to promote a good night’s sleep. For more advice, visit the National Sleep Foundation website.


  1. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/insomnia-and-sleep
  2. http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/consequences/sleep-and-disease-risk
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5015038/
  4. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/ajcn/nqz275/5673520?redirectedFrom=fulltext
  5. https://www.whi.org/about/SitePages/Observational Study.aspx
  6. https://www.cuimc.columbia.edu/news/refined-carbs-may-trigger-insomnia-finds-study
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19961/