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New clues suggest popular foods could be to blame for chronic insomnia, scientists say

ULTRA-processed foods have gained a bad rap for their links to obesity, diabetes and even cancer.

But new research suggests popular products like ready meals, fizzy drinks and energy bars could also be to blame for sleep issues and chronic insomnia.

Getty
Eating junk food has been linked to higher risk of insomnia[/caption]

UPFs are foods that have been heavily altered from their original state and have have a number of ingredients and additives you wouldn’t use in home cooking.

They typically contain added sugar, salt and fat, as well as chemical additives like sweeteners, emulsifiers and colours, but tend to be low in vitamins and fibre.

Mounting evidence has linked these foods to a higher risk of obesityheart diseasediabetes and bowel cancer, with junk food linked to 32 illnesses in recent research.

Now, researchers from Sorbonne Paris Nord University in France say the health effects of UPFs could encroach onto our sleep too, linking ‘junk’ food to chronic insomnia.

They found a statistically significant association between eating UPFs and chronic insomnia, after analysing the diets and sleep patterns of almost 40,000 adults.

When data is statistically significant, it means results can’t be explained by chance alone.

Lead investigator Marie-Pierre St-Onge, a nutrition and sleep scientist at Columbia University, said: “At a time when more and more foods are highly processed and sleep disturbances are rampant, it is important to evaluate whether diet could contribute to adverse or good quality sleep.

“Our research team had previously reported associations of healthy dietary patterns, like the Mediterranean diet, with a reduced risk of insomnia and poor sleep quality, and high carbohydrate diets with an elevated risk of insomnia.”

Around one in three people will experience trouble with falling and staying asleep in their lifetime, which is characterised as chronic insomnia if it lasts for longer than three months.

The team trawled through data collected on 38,570 adults as part of the NutriNet-Santé research project.

Data was collected every six months between 2013 and 2015 from participants, who completed multiple 24-hour dietary records and provided information on insomnia their symptoms.

Overall, participants got about 16 per cent of their daily energy from UPFs, while 19.4 per cent reported chronic insomnia.

Significantly, people who suffered with chronic insomnia tended to consume higher amounts of UPFs.

The between higher UPF intake and insomnia was slightly higher in men than women, thought it was evident in both.

Researchers said their result makes sense in the context of previous research on the link between diet and sleep.

People who consume higher amounts of UPFs also tend to eat fewer fruit, vegetables, legumes, and seafood, all of which have been shown to promote sleep, researchers said.

“Indeed, prospective research has shown that individuals adhering to nutrient-dense and fibre-rich diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, have better sleep health and lower risk of insomnia,” they wrote in a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“In contrast, […] an increased intake of added sugars, starch, and refined grains (all present in UPF), have been suggested as independent risk factors for insomnia incidence.”

The team noted a few limitations to their research, including that it relied on self reporting about diets and sleep.

They also weren’t able to confirm that UPF consumption causes insomnia, only that the two are linked, as the study was observational.

Epidemiologist Pauline Duquenne from Sorbonne Paris Nord University, said: “While data do not establish causality, our study is first of its kind and contributes to the existing body of knowledge on UPF.”

The study team recommended that future research examine the association of UPF consumption and poor sleep over time.

But they advised that people with sleep difficulties may consider examining their diet to determine whether UPFs could be contributing to their sleep issues.

Eat to sleep better

THERE'S no doubt that diet and sleep are linked.

We’re often advised to swerve certain foods before bedtime in order to avoid disrupting our snooze.

And have you ever noticed yourself feeling uncomfortably full and bloated if you eat a heart meal too close to your bedtime?

Experts at The Sleep Foundation shared six foods that might help you drift off into the land of the nod.

They include:

  1. Kiwis – research has linked the fruit to improved sleep, possibly due to their antioxidant properties and high dose of seratonin
  2. Tart cherries – not to be confused with sweet cherries, studies have found that drinking tart cherry juice may improve sleep due to its melatonin content
  3. Malted milk – made by combining milk and a specially formulated powder that contains wheat flour, malted wheat, and malted barley, studies have linked the drink to fewer sleep interruptions
  4. Fatty fish – researchers believe that fatty fish may help sleep by providing a dose of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, which are involved in the body’s release and regulation of serotonin
  5. Nuts – almonds, walnuts pistachios, and cashews contain melatonin and omega-3’s as well as minerals like magnesium and zinc, which could improve sleep
  6. Rice – a study of adults in Japan found that those who regularly ate rice reported better sleep than those who ate more bread or noodles

Though these foods might give our sleep quality a boost, it’s best to concentrate on the overall quality of your diet.

Sleep Medicine Physician Dr Lulu Guo said: “It’s better to focus on overall healthy dietary patterns throughout the day rather than focus on a specific food or drink to improve sleep.”

But you might want to keeps these tips in mind to avoid disrupting your snooze:

  • Limit caffeine intake, especially in the afternoon or evening when its stimulant effects can keep you up at night
  • Moderate alcohol consumption since it can throw off your sleep cycles even if it makes you sleepy at first. Try to avoid alcohol especially within four hours of bedtime.
  • Try not to eat too late so that you aren’t still digesting at bedtime and are at less risk of acid reflux. Be especially careful with spicy and fatty foods late in the evening.

Source: The Sleep Foundation

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