Did you know that the CDC has declared insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic? According to Sleephealth.org in the US, 50 to 70 million people of all ages and social classes suffer from sleep-related problems. Since good sleep is essential for staying healthy, sleep is as important as breathing and eating and essential for those with immune issues and chronic diseases.
Many people suffer from sleep deprivation because of work schedules and overactive lifestyles, but there is another growing cause for sleep issues, gut health. Around 35% of adults in the U.S. get less than 7 hours of sleep a night. This not only affects attention, coordination, and memory, but it also impacts the gut microbiome.
The trillions of gut bacteria that help with digestion, control inflammation, regulate our immune system, and are linked to our brain function, are severely compromised without enough sleep. If you are suffering from sleep disturbances and you don’t know why there is a good chance it may be linked to your gut health. Let’s take a closer look at how intertwined gut health and sleep really are.
How Lack of Sleep Affects Gut Health
Here are 5 Ways Gut Health Impacts Your Sleep that are backed by scientific evidence.
1. Lack of sleep makes your gut unhappy. In a study conducted in 2016 with nine healthy men, after just two nights of limited sleep, there was a large decrease in the beneficial bacteria in their guts. This study indicates that when you don’t get enough sleep, your gut will suffer.
2. Circadian rhythms and your gut are intertwined. The internal clock that tells you when to sleep and when to wake up has been linked to gut health. A study in 2016 discovered that gut microbes actually move around to a rhythm-based on day and night. Gut bacteria have a big role in regulating this rhythm and how much we sleep.
When gut microbes from jet-lagged humans were implanted in mice, the mice immediately began to have gut malfunctions like high blood sugar levels. It takes just three days of shift work to create problems in the gut and pancreas that can cause metabolic issues and disrupt a normal sleep pattern.
3. A connection exists between sleep disturbances, depression, and the gut. Studies have shown that people who have depression and sleep disturbances have abnormal microbiomes. Sleep can help restore the good gut bacteria which, in turn, helps alleviate the depression.
The gut-brain axis has its own nervous system which allows our gut to talk to our brain. This communication system “talks” to our gastrointestinal tract and can influence cognition, behavior, and neural development. Lack of sleep can alter the gut microbe composition, which can be responsible for depression and other negative behaviors.
4. Bowel disorders can create sleep disturbances. If you are experiencing gut and bowel disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you are most likely having issues sleeping. Pain is responsible for the number one cause of sleep disturbances. If you are having abdominal pain, you most likely are not sleeping well.
People suffering from various types of IBS have been reported to have variations in sleep hormone levels. This affects sleep in neurological ways. This may be due to the body’s inflammation levels which can cause sleep issues. It seems poor sleep leads to a greater chance of IBS and IBS causes poor sleep.
5. Probiotics may help with sleep issues. The premise is that a healthy gut can make us sleep better. Rats were studied in 2017 and were fed a diet rich with probiotic foods containing live bacteria and the type of fiber that feeds gut bacteria. They were given probiotics after being exposed to stress. The probiotic diet helped the rats restore a normal sleep pattern and deeper REM sleep.
If you’ve been under a lot of stress, try eating foods rich in probiotics like bananas, leeks, onions, and asparagus. While there is still research to be done to figure out the complexities if you feed the good bacteria in your gut you are more likely to sleep better.
For more information on how the microbiome and your circadian rhythm are affected by sleep deprivation check out Dr. Matt Walker on YouTube. In his video, Dr. Walker discusses how the pathway between the nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract modulates how the body responds to stress. The microbiome is a key player in this process as when it is deprived, the gut microbiome is altered and this causes a disruption in sleep.
What Happens When You Are Deprived of Sleep
We already determined that just a few night’s sleep can alter your gut biome. A Swedish study found that two consecutive nights of sleeping 4 ½ hours can reduce your gut biome of good bacteria by almost 50%. In addition, those same people became 20% less resistant to insulin. Their gut biomes started to resemble those individuals suffering from obesity.
If you are thinking that when you miss a couple of night’s sleep that you can catch up by taking a nap or two, this is not necessarily true. Naps are good for your health, but they do little to relieve the damage done when you do not have a good sleep routine.
The reason for this is that your entire body, especially your microbiome, is best maintained by regular sleep patterns, a period of being awake, and eating. When you disrupt that natural pattern, it affects the gut’s rhythm and the composition of your microbiome.
Proof of this disturbance has been studied by shift workers with rotating schedules and people who travel a lot. Even if they get a sufficient amount of sleep, the disruption in the natural rhythm affects the microbiome.
National Institute of Health states that there is growing evidence that sleep disturbances are linked to a wide range of health problems. These can include circadian rhythm disorders, obesity, insomnia, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and inflammatory diseases.
Studies on animals have demonstrated that when the balance is tipped toward inflammatory gut bacteria, this promotes permeability in the intestines which increases the chance of inflammation and specific diseases associated with the microbiota. Disruption in the gut increased circadian rhythm disorders and increases metabolic syndromes.
In the last 20 years, there has been a significant increase in the number of sleep studies done on rodents and humans. With an increase in technology comes a growing body of research that supports the theory that adequate sleep and a healthy microbiome are associated with healthy emotions. Lack of sleep plays a role in mental disorders such as depression and insomnia.
The Sleep-Gut Connection is a Two-Way Street
Not only does a lack of sleep impact your microbiome, but it also significantly impacts your mood, hormones, levels of stress, perception of pain, neurotransmitters, and weight management. If you are having trouble sleeping, embarking on a mission to get your gut healthier will make your whole body feel better.
Here are some suggestions from Hyperbiotics for embracing a gut-healthy lifestyle that may help you sleep better, and feel better mentally and physically.
• If you are having trouble eating enough foods rich in probiotics, or you have been on antibiotics or had a recent illness, you may need help in repopulating the good gut bacteria. Try a probiotic supplement that ensures you will have a wide variety of friendly bacteria introduced to your microbiome. Pick a well-researched, high-quality product that is time-released, and has a high CFU content with at least 10 different strains of bacteria.
• Try eating a wide variety of whole plant foods, preferably organic. Choose probiotic-rich cultured and fermented dishes. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables that support healthy microbes such as green apples, artichokes, asparagus, and leafy greens. You can even eat your oatmeal sprinkled with organic prebiotic powder to powerpack your morning with food to fuel your microbiome.
• Stay away from refined sugar, artificial sweeteners and additives, processed foods, preservatives, GMO foods, and pesticides which are harmful to your gut microbes. Your best bet is to eat food in its natural state that has been organically grown.
• Exercise has been shown to improve gut health. Do whatever it is that makes you happy and keeps you moving.
• Medicines like antibiotics and other prescription medications kill the good as well as bad bacteria. Even sleep medicines can damage the good bacteria. It is best only to take medicine when truly needed.
Sleep and the Microbiome
The Sleep Doctor brings to light some significant new developments in understanding the complex relationship between our body’s microbiome and sleep.
Our microbiomes produce and release some of the same neurotransmitters produced and released by the brain that promote sleep such as, dopamine, GABA, and serotonin. Even melatonin is produced in the gut and the brain. Therefore, when you’re experiencing poor gut health, you are also reducing the production of sleep-inducing neurotransmitters.
The Sleep Doctor also emphasizes the link between cognitive decline and sleep disturbances. New research is being conducted on the link between cognitive health and a decrease in good bacteria as a result of poor sleep. Anxiety and depression have been linked to poor gut health as well as other mental health issues like post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).
The problem with taking medications for depression and anxiety is that they negatively affect the gut microbiome. This hampers the drugs from treating mental conditions.
Conversely, researchers investigated the gut microbiomes of people between the ages of 50 and 80. Individuals with sufficient and good quality sleep had a high level of good gut microbes and an increase in cognitive flexibility.
Questions and concerns about the high incidence of sleep disruption and gut health are being raised. Some of them include:
• Could the lack of quality sleep and the effects it has on gut health be one of the factors in cognitive decline in the aging process?
• By building gut health, could we help protect against poor sleep and the effects it has on cognitive health?
• Growing evidence suggests poor sleep is having a larger impact on neurological degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
• Can more research on the microbiome and its link to sleep disturbances give us new information on how to protect the brain during the aging process?
• Can poor gut health cause issues such as high blood pressure in those with sleep disorders such as sleep apnea?
• Research is suggesting that the microbiome in those suffering from obstructive sleep apnea is causing high blood pressure.
Sleep disturbances correlated to poor gut health is continuing to be researched and more credibility is being provided for a strong link between the two. It is now known that high blood pressure occurs in those with sleep apnea. Fragmented sleep, an unrefreshing and restless sleep where you wake up many times throughout the night, can also be correlated to poor gut health.
Fragmented sleep may affect our microbiome by increasing inflammation which leads to metabolic dysfunctions. The sleep – microbiome connection is complicated and we are just now beginning to understand more about this important relationship.
There is an overwhelming body of evidence that suggests our microbiome is linked to our sleep. Those suffering from sleep disturbances are more like to have poor gut health. When dysfunction occurs in the microbiome, this can cause not only sleep disruptions, but can also lead to cognitive disorders, metabolic issues, diabetes, and other health problems.
If you are one of the growing numbers of Americans that have sleep issues, building a stronger and healthier gut may provide you with a better night’s sleep. Eating a diet rich in probiotics, staying away from refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, and lowing your use of medications and antibiotics is the first step toward building a healthier gut.
As research continues to explore the relationship between a healthy gut and sleep disturbances, it is becoming clearer that good gut health promotes better sleep and may keep our bodies and our brains healthier as we age.