It is widely acknowledged that what you eat can affect your sleep quality and a growing body of research suggests a specific correlation between consuming more ultra-processed foods and an increased risk of insomnia.

Processed foods and indeed Ultra Processed foods, UPFs, have been making headlines; the consumption of these foods has increased significantly over the past few years and at the same time, sleep quality and disturbances are also a problem for many.

Can an increased consumption of processed foods contribute to poor sleep quality?

A recent large-scale French study finds that people who reported chronic insomnia also consumed a higher percentage of their total calories from UPFs.

Whilst the study was more observational and by no means definitive, let me explain…

The effect on your body of eating more processed foods and how this can adversely impact your sleep.

Here are 6 key factors that can contribute to this correlation:

1. High Sugar Content

Processed foods are often high in added sugars, which can lead to poor blood sugar regulation due to their high glycaemic index. High sugar intake can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes, leading to night-time disturbances and poor sleep quality. Stable blood sugar levels are important for uninterrupted sleep.

2. Poor Nutritional Profile

Processed foods tend to be low in essential nutrients like magnesium, calcium, and vitamins B6 and B12, which are crucial for maintaining a healthy sleep cycle. Deficiencies in these nutrients can lead to sleep disturbances and difficulty falling or staying asleep.

3. Artificial Additives

Many processed foods contain artificial additives, preservatives, and colourings and these additives may stimulate the nervous system or cause digestive issues, both of which can disrupt sleep.

4. Impact on Gut Health

Processed foods, with their higher sugar content and lack of fibre can harm gut health by promoting the growth of harmful bacteria and reducing beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome. A healthy gut microbiome is essential for the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin, which regulate sleep. An imbalance in gut bacteria can lead to insomnia and other sleep disorders.

5. Increased Inflammation

A diet high in processed foods is associated with increased inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can interfere with the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, making it harder to get restful sleep.

6. Stress and Anxiety

Eating a diet high in processed foods causes sugar spikes and the crashes that follow can cause symptoms like palpitations, dizziness and jitters and can also contribute to mental health issues like stress and anxiety, which are common causes of insomnia. Processed foods can alter brain function and mood, leading to increased stress and difficulty sleeping.

Avoid Ultra Processed Foods to Improve Sleep Quality

To improve sleep quality and reduce the risk of insomnia, it’s beneficial to minimize if not avoid the intake of processed foods completely. Instead focus on a diet rich in whole, nutrient-dense foods. Incorporating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

This Mediterranean-style diet has been shown to improve sleep quality, helping to regulate sleep patterns, reduce inflammation, and support overall health and well-being.

Want to learn more about the Mediterranean way of eating?

The Mediterranean Diet, the elixir of health or just hype? CLICK HERE