Sleep disturbances such as insomnia are extremely common, especially in women after menopause. According to data from the National Institutes of Health, sleep disturbance varies from 16% to 42% before menopause, from 39% to 47% during perimenopause, and from 35% to 60% after menopause.
Insomnia is a serious medical problem defined by frequent difficulty falling or staying asleep that impacts a person’s life in a negative way. Hormone changes around menopause can lead to sleep problems for many reasons, including changing sleep requirements, increased irritability, and hot flashes.
What menopausal women eat could have an impact on their risk of developing insomnia
Researchers recently looked at detailed dietary data from over 50,000 postmenopausal women (average age 63) enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative study between 1994 and 2001. Carbohydrate intake was measured in several ways: glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL), measures of added sugars, starch, total carbohydrate, and dietary fiber, and specific carbohydrate-containing foods such as whole grains, processed or refined grains, whole fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. They then looked at each participant’s risk of developing insomnia after three years of follow-up.
They found that the risk of developing insomnia was greater in women with a higher-GI diet, as well as in women who included more added sugars in their diet. Added sugars included white and brown sugar, syrups, honey, and molasses. The risk of developing insomnia was lower in women who ate more whole fruits and vegetables.
The researchers accounted for and adjusted for many potentially confounding factors, including demographic (education, income, marital status), behavioral (smoking, alcohol, caffeine intake, physical activity), psychosocial (stress, social connection), and medical factors (body mass index, various medical diagnoses, hormone therapy, snoring).
What is the glycemic index of food, and how could this affect sleep?
The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking of foods on a scale from 0 to 100 according to how much they raise blood sugar levels after eating them. I’ve written previously about planning meals with knowledge of the GI and the glycemic load of foods. High-GI foods are those that are rapidly digested, absorbed, and metabolized, and cause spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. Some examples of high-GI foods include anything made with processed grains (bread, pasta, baked goods, white rice) and anything containing added sugars (sugary beverages, sweets).
Low-GI foods don’t cause your blood sugar and insulin levels to spike, and include plant foods such as most fruits and vegetables, legumes and beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Even plant foods that have a high GI — such as bananas and watermelon — are not likely “bad” for you when eaten in moderation.
Researchers hypothesize that high-GI foods cause insomnia bec