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What’s Keeping You Up at Night? Could Ultra-Processed Foods Be Associated With Your Insomnia?

May 30, 2024

Intake of ultra-processed foods is associated with a higher prevalence of insomnia, according to a new study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Ultra-processed foods (UPF) may be associated with the insomnia experienced by an estimated one third of adults. An analysisopens in new tab/window of dietary and sleep patterns reported in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dieteticsopens in new tab/window, published by Elsevier, shows a statistically significant association between consumption of UPF and chronic insomnia independent of sociodemographic, lifestyle, diet quality, and mental health status characteristics.

Lead investigator Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD, Division of General Medicine and Center of Excellence for Sleep & Circadian Research, Department of Medicine, Columbia University, explains, “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.”

While past studies have examined nutrients or dietary supplements in relation to sleep (for example, protein, magnesium), this study is novel because it evaluates a dietary pattern beyond nutrients and specific foods and shows that the degree to which foods are processed may have some relevance for sleep health.

Dr. St-Onge adds, “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 (both cross-sectionally and longitudinally), and high carbohydrate diets with an elevated risk of insomnia. The consumption of UPF is on the rise worldwide, and it has been linked to numerous health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and cancer.”

To examine dietary intakes for their association with sleep, this large epidemiological study used NutriNet-Santéopens in new tab/window data from more than 39,000 French adults. This large cohort study was ideally suited to address this question given its inclusion of sleep variables and multiple days of detailed diet information.

Data were collected every six months between 2013 and 2015 from adults who completed multiple 24-hour dietary records and provided information on insomnia symptoms. The definition of insomnia was based on the criteria provided by the DSM-5 and the ICSD-3.

Participants reported consuming approximately 16% of energy from UPF and close to 20% reported chronic insomnia. Individuals who reported chronic insomnia consumed a higher percentage of their energy intake from UPF. The association of higher UPF intake and insomnia was evident in both males and females, but the risk was slightly higher in males than females.

First author Pauline Duquenne, MSc, Sorbonne Paris Nord University and Paris Cité University, INSERM, INRAE, CNAM, Nutritional Epidemiology Research Team (EREN), Center for Research in Epidemiology and Statistics (CRESS), cautions, “It is important to note that our analyses were cross-sectional and observational in nature, and we did not evaluate longitudinal association. While data do not establish causality, our study is first of its kind and contributes to the existing body of knowledge on UPF.”

Other study limitations included reliance on self-reported data and possible misclassification of some food items. Caution is advised when generalizing the findings because the NutriNet-Santé includes a higher proportion of females and individuals of high socioeconomic status compared with the general French population, although UPF intake was similar to a nationally representative sample.

The investigators recommend that future studies should test causality and evaluate the associations over time. However, they advise that individuals with sleep difficulties may consider examining their diet to determine whether UPF could be contributing to their sleep issues.

Notes for editors

The article is The association between ultra-processed food consumption and chronic insomnia in the NutriNet-Santé Study,” by Pauline Duquenne, MSc; Julia Capperella; Léopold K. Fezeu, MD, PhD; Bernard Srour, PharmD, PhD; Giada Benasi, PhD; Serge Hercberg, MD, PhD; Mathilde Touvier, PhD; Valentina A. Andreeva, PhD; and Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD ( in new tab/window). The article appears online in advance of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, volume 124, issue 9 (September 2024), published by Elsevier.

The article is openly available at in new tab/window.

The NutriNet-Santé study is supported by the French Ministry of Solidarity and Health, the National Agency for Public Health (Santé Publique France), the National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM), the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE), the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts (CNAM), and Sorbonne Paris Nord University. Pauline Duquenne is supported by the French National Research Agency (grant # ANR-21-CE36-0003). Giada Benasi is supported by NIH grant # 5T32DK007559-31. Marie-Pierre St-Onge is supported by NIH grants # R35HL155370, R01DK128154, and R01HL142648.

Full text of the article is also available to credentialed journalists upon request. Contact Eileen Leahy at +1 732 406 1313 or [email protected]opens in new tab/window to obtain copies. Journalists who wish to interview the study authors should contact Marie-Pierre St-Onge, PhD, at [email protected]opens in new tab/window.

An accompanying podcast and information specifically for journalists are located at in new tab/window. Excerpts from the podcast may be reproduced by the media; contact Eileen Leahy to obtain permission.

About the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

The official journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dieteticsopens in new tab/window, the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the premier source for the practice and science of food, nutrition, and dietetics. The monthly, peer-reviewed journal presents original articles prepared by scholars and practitioners and is the most widely read professional publication in the field. The Journal focuses on advancing professional knowledge across the range of research and practice issues such as: nutritional science, medical nutrition therapy, public health nutrition, food science and biotechnology, food service systems, leadership and management, and dietetics education. www.jandonline.orgopens in new tab/window

About the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Representing more than 112,000 credentialed nutrition and dietetics practitioners, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The Academy is committed to improving health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education, and advocacy. Visit the Academy at www.eatright.orgopens in new tab/window.

About Elsevier

As a global leader in scientific information and analytics, Elsevier helps researchers and healthcare professionals advance science and improve health outcomes for the benefit of society. We do this by facilitating insights and critical decision-making with innovative solutions based on trusted, evidence-based content and advanced AI-enabled digital technologies.

We have supported the work of our research and healthcare communities for more than 140 years. Our 9,500 employees around the world, including 2,500 technologists, are dedicated to supporting researchers, librarians, academic leaders, funders, governments, R&D-intensive companies, doctors, nurses, future healthcare professionals and educators in their critical work. Our 2,900 scientific journals and iconic reference books include the foremost titles in their fields, including Cell Press, The Lancet and Gray’s Anatomy.

Together with the Elsevier Foundationopens in new tab/window, we work in partnership with the communities we serve to advance inclusion and diversity in science, research and healthcare in developing countries and around the world.

Elsevier is part of RELXopens in new tab/window, a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools for professional and business customers. For more information on our work, digital solutions and content, visit

Eileen Leahy


Eileen Leahy


+1 732 406 1313

E-mail Eileen Leahy