Have you been having trouble sleeping, or having restless sleep? If you experience stress, digestive comfort, or struggle to feel relaxed before you sleep, and no other sleep remedies are helping you? Then your sweet dreams may start with your gut, say what?
Did you know that getting enough sleep each night is almost as important as eating healthy and exercising in preventing diseases? A recent study by the Centre of Disease Control and Prevention indicates that 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, adults aged 18-60 are recommended to sleep at least 7 hours each night to promote optimal health and wellbeing. Sleeping less than 7 hours can make you more susceptible to chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, anxiety, and depression.
Not only can sleep affect your susceptibility to certain chronic diseases, but it can also affect your gut health. And vice-versa, your gut health can affect the quality of your sleep!
If you’ve read some of our other blog posts, you now know that good gut health is key to being and feeling healthy! So it’s likely no surprise that recent science has identified a link between the gut microbiota and its role in sleep! A 2014 study found that the shift between day and night doesn’t just affect our circadian rhythms (our body’s internal clock that regulates bodily functions – including sleep), but also affects the rhythm of our gut microbes and metabolism! Because our gut microbes have such a close relationship with many organs in our body, research suggests that both circadian rhythms and microbial rhythms are capable of influencing and disrupting each other, with consequences for health and sleep.
The rhythm of our gut microbes are affected by the diet, both by the timing of eating and the variety of foods eaten. Research on mice showed that mice fed infrequently and/or fed a stereotypically “Western” diet (high in processed foods, fats, sugars) produced microbial rhythms that don’t adhere to a daily rhythm, and send signals that disrupt circadian rhythms - sending the whole body out of whack! These mice also went on to gain weight and become obese, while the mice fed healthfully did not. This research suggests that microbial activity is closely linked to circadian function – and therefore to sleep! So in more understandable terms - our gut has a lot more to do with regulating our sleep than we might have initially thought!
More research reveals that gut microbiota may also affect sleep through the production and regulation of important hormones. Recent research has uncovered that Melatonin, the “darkness hormone”, which is essential to a healthy sleep-wake cycle, is produced in the gut as well as the brain. Melatonin increases when it’s dark to signal sleep-time. On the flip side, Cortisol, our “stress hormone”, works oppositely in our sleep-wake cycle, helping us wake up. Early in the day, our cortisol levels rise to promote alertness, focus and energy. Cortisol is also central to the stress and inflammatory response, and greatly affects our gut permeability and microbial diversity.
Scientists still don’t fully understand the relationship between sleep, the gut microbiota and health, because let’s be real, it’s a bit complicated! But, what is clear is that our gut microbiota definitely affects our ability to sleep – so what can we do to tap into some better rests?
We can take good care of our gut health with proper nutrition and exercise. When we feed the good bacteria in our gut, they take care of our well-being. A gut-friendly food regime is similar to a healthy diet, which limits the intake of processed foods, sugary snacks and fast food. Rather than making big unsustainable changes, like completely changing your diet, consider adding fermented foods like live yogurt, kimchi, kombucha or sauerkraut to your everyday meals. While also adding a variety of foods high in fibre to your diet – like fruits and vegetables, or maybe your favourite high-fibre cereal, Holy Crap!
Feed your gut and watch the sweet dreams come!
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). 1 in 3 adults do not get enough sleep. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html
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Li, Y., Hao, Y., Fan, F., & Zhang, B. (2018). The Role of Microbiome in Insomnia, Circadian Disturbance and Depression. Frontiers in psychiatry, 9, 669. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00669
Zarrinpar, A., Chaix, A., Yooseph, S., & Panda, S. (2014). Diet and feeding pattern affect the diurnal dynamics of the gut microbiome. Cell metabolism, 20(6), 1006–1017. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2014.11.008