Gut Health and Sleep: A Give and Take Relationship

Gut Health and Sleep: A Give and Take Relationship

If you are one of the many people who have difficulty sleeping but are tired of taking pills and medications to help you sleep better, there is good news for you. That complex system in our belly that contains millions of bacteria that make up our body’s biome, does more than just digest food. Your gut health can impact your sleep.

You might be aware of how the good bacteria in your gut help you digest, process waste, and protects you from viruses. How can it affect your sleep? Scientists have determined that sleep has a strong correlation with good gut health. The more your gut is healthy and flourishing, the better you snooze. It’s a “give and take” relationship.

It turns out that our digestive system has a huge influence on our sleeping patterns. This does not include gut disturbances and bouts of indigestion during the night. If you are having difficulty getting a good night’s sleep and you are not sure why, it might be time to take a look at your gut health.

While scientists are still doing research on the details of gut-sleep connections, the current findings are promising. Bustle takes a look at some of the reasons gut health may influence your sleep.

How Gut Health Influences Sleep

1. Vicious Sleep Cycle – lack of sleep upsets your belly biome. While a healthy gut microbiome helps you sleep better, a lack of sleep can disrupt that delicate balance in your gut. In a sleep study with nine healthy men, after two nights of sleep deprivation, scientists found a significant decrease in beneficial gut bacteria. While this was just a small study, it does indicate that getting a poor amount of sleep prevents our gut from doing its job.

2. The Internal Clock and Gut Health – better known as a circadian rhythm, the 24-hour internal clock that sets when we sleep and wake up is influenced by gut bacteria. Just like all the other cells and processes in our body, our gut bacteria regulate our body clock and how much we sleep.

In 2016, a study determined that gut microbes actually move in a 24-hour rhythm with day and night. This pattern affects the circadian rhythm of other organs in what scientists call a “dance”. Since gut bacteria affect this rhythm, poor gut health will wreak havoc on the body’s internal clock.

A study that illustrates this point was conducted using jet-lagged humans. Gut microbes from jetlagged travelers were implanted into healthy mice. The mice immediately began showing signs of malfunctioning guts and high blood sugar levels. This was another example of how powerful gut microbe can be in regulating healthy sleep rhythms.

3. The connection between poor sleep, depression, and the gut – scientists have recently established that depression is linked to levels of gut bacteria. As it turns out, sleep has a role in this relationship. Tim Spector is a gut specialist who made a correlation that people who suffer from depression and sleep poorly have abnormal gut microbes. Spector believes there is a connection between all three.

A term called the gut-brain axis connects the brain, gut, and sleep. The gut talks to the brain through its own nervous system. There is a direct communication system between the gastrointestinal tract and the body’s central nervous system.

People who suffer from insomnia due to depression might want to take a look at their gut health. Research indicates that depressive insomnia may have bad gut bacteria that over stimulates nerves and tissues. This may cause the central nervous system to go haywire and create depression and sleep issues.

4. Bowel disorders can disrupt sleep – so if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) you probably have sleep issues as well. The International Foundation of Gastrointestinal Disorders reports that people with chronic pain is report pain as one of their major issues.

Any type of abdominal pain can cause difficulty sleeping as well as difficulty waking up and disrupted sleep patterns. The link between IBS and poor sleep is more than a pain issue. Very Well Health reports that gastrointestinal issues create inflammation which causes sleep issues. IBS can lead to poor sleep and poor sleep can increase the risk of gastrointestinal issues.

5. Prebiotics may help with sleep – since an unhealthy gut can affect sleep, a healthy gut can make us sleep better. A 2017 study found that fiber-rich foods that feed gut bacteria can promote better sleep. If you are experiencing difficulty sleeping, try eating prebiotic substances like garlic, leeks, onion, bananas, and asparagus.

While scientists are still discovering new links between the gut and sleep, there is a strong suggestion the two are interrelated. It’s pretty safe to assume that your gut is involved if you are having difficulty sleeping. Watching this short video on Youtube by Dr. Lam may help you better understand how the body’s neurotransmitters, which regulate sleep, are made in the gut.

The Interaction Between the Gut and Sleep Issues

All the sleep aids on the market don’t look at the big picture. The systems in our bodies are all intertwined. While digestion problems and food allergies may only be attributed to the bowel, they often have other effects since the gut communicates directly with the brain and interacts with the immune system.

Dr. Michael Gelb from OMG discusses how trouble sleeping and gut health may be related.

Gelb is sympathetic to those who have multiple health issues. Many people end up going to several different specialists and getting medication that just masks the symptoms. Furthermore, many of those medications have nasty side effects.

Perhaps you are one of the many people who have trouble sleeping and who do not feel refreshed upon waking. Gelb explains that if you often have a headache in the morning, if your digestion has been problematic, and you often feel bloated, you may have developed food sensitivities.

These sensitivities could be contributing to your lack of sleep due to poor gut health. Since the brain and gut are connected, it makes sense that the gut is having a huge impact on your health and your sleep. The gut is a sophisticated organ and is responsible for a lot more than the breakdown and absorption of food.

Your gut’s microbiome also makes and releases the hormone serotonin which helps with sleep. The bacteria cells that live in your colon are ten times greater than the rest of your cells combined. Furthermore, the gut and brain connect directly in two main ways.

Vagus nerve – this is the longest cranial nerve in the body. It extends from the brain to the abdomen. It is essentially a superhighway that transmits sensory information and body commands. The vagus has many functions including making your heart beat. Another important job it has is stimulating your gut so you can digest food.

Hormones – triggering the production and release of hormones is accomplished by the microbiome and brain working together. Who would have thought bacteria can communicate? It does. It talks to the central nervous system about how much serotonin to produce. If gut health is poor, there may be a lack of serotonin being produced. This creates a bad cycle when it comes to your sleep and maintaining a healthy gut.

These essential pathways of communication can produce changes in your body. When this vicious cycle begins, there can be more serious repercussions, especially when it comes to sleep.

How a Lack of Sleep Impacts Your Gut

Psychology Today explores the impact of sleep issues on gut health. Michael Breus Ph.D. discusses some of the latest research on sleep issues and gut health.

In a short amount of time, lack of sleep may show a decrease in the good bacteria in your gut. These changes in the composition of bacteria in the microbiome are linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes. This decrease may decrease insulin sensitivity. The end result of poor sleep may lead to poor metabolic health and have a negative impact on insulin and blood sugar levels.

Just as you were about to lose sleep over your sleeplessness, unfortunately, it does get worse. According to Breus, poor sleep and an unhealthy gut may be attributed to cognitive decline. Strong evidence suggests that gut health may be an important trigger for the onset of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
Medications designed to help with these disorders may damage the healthy microbes in the gut, thus prohibiting the drugs to treat the conditions effectively.

Breus points to a study conducted in 2017 by researchers at Kent State. The study found a possible relationship between poor sleep and cognitive decline. Adults 50 to 85 were studied. There was a strong connection between cognitive flexibility and good levels of beneficial gut bacteria.

Researchers question whether the effect of gut bacteria and poor sleep contributes to cognitive decline in the aging process. Perhaps good gut health can protect against the decline of cognitive functions? While more research is needed, there is growing evidence pointing to the fact that good gut health and sleep may play a role in preventing Alzheimer’s and protect the brain as humans age.

Improving Sleep with Good Gut Health

Sleep Doctor has some suggestions on how you can improve your gut health and get a better night’s sleep. Since it is quite clear that the microbial system in our gut has an influence over our mental and physical health and our sleep, here are some steps you can take to improve both at the same time.

• Eat whole, minimally processed food. Cut out sugary, fatty, and highly processed foods. They can alter the good bacteria in your gut biome and reduce the number of helpful microorganisms. Try to include unprocessed and nutrient-rich foods like whole grains, fruit, and vegetables. This will help restore the good bacteria in your gut.

• Go with organic foods when you can. If food is not organic, it may contain pesticides. These pesticides have a bad effect on the good gut bacteria. Remember that food like grains, beans, dairy, and animal products should also be organic.

• Prebiotics may be beneficial. Prebiotics are the energy source for your good gut bacteria. You can get prebiotics in supplement form or eat high-fiber foods. These include apples, asparagus, artichokes, onions, leeks, garlic, and bananas.

• It’s not good to go to bed hungry, but eating too much before bed may rev up your digestive system. You may crave sugar and processed fats when you are mentally and physically tired. Eating these may interfere with your sleep and your microbiome. Try snacking on food that is healthy for your microbiome and see if your sleep improves.

• Exercise is great for sleep. Getting exercise has been attributed to allowing you to fall asleep more easily and sleep more soundly. New research may indicate that exercise may be directly beneficial to the gut microbiome.

• It’s not good to go to bed hungry, but eating too much before bed may rev up your digestive system. You may crave sugar and processed fats when you are mentally and physically tired. Eating these may interfere with your sleep and your microbiome. Try snacking on food that is healthy for your microbiome and see if your sleep improves.

• Exercise is great for sleep. Getting exercise has been attributed to allowing you to fall asleep more easily and sleep more soundly. New research may indicate that exercise may be directly beneficial to the gut microbiome.

The facts seem to be overwhelming on our gut health, the microbiome, and how it affects our sleep. There seems to be a huge relationship between how the gut, brain, and body communicate. It seems that when the gut suffers, the rest of the body does as well.

It basically boils down to, what we put in our diet has a direct impact on sleep, and sleep has a direct impact on our gut. How can you insure that your gut biome is healthy? If you are having trouble sleeping try making changes to your diet that will increase your good gut bacteria. If you are not getting the sleep you need, you may be trapped in a vicious cycle of gut and brain tug of war.

In addition to helping to protect the quality of your sleep through maintaining a healthy gut biome, there are other benefits to following a good gut diet. You may be preventing inflammation that leads to metabolic dysfunction, preventing mental disorders, and protecting yourself against weight gain and diabetes.

Reduce your stress, eat fiber-rich foods, exercise, and begin your journey towards better gut health and a great night’s sleep.