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Can bacteria in my gut affect my sleep?

Harness the power of sleep to boost gut health and enhance wellbeing

Sleep is a critical component of overall health. It not only affects your energy levels, but also helps every system in the human body function properly, including the immune system, , heart,  and even the digestive system

Poor sleep quality is linked to heart problems, obesity, diabetes, anxiety and depression, poor immunity, mental disorders and disorders of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT).

If you do not sleep well, it can take a toll on your gut health 

The community of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in the gut (or the gut microbiome). Your gut is more than just your body’s natural waste system. It is a system of organs that keeps the body safe from the dangerous bacteria, fungi, and viruses, that can take root in the human body, resulting in several diseases. 

There are good bacteria and bad bacteria in the gut. An increase in bad bacteria or decrease in good bacteria is known as microbial dysbiosis which can lead to diseases and affect sleep.

New research published in Scientific Reports conducted at the University of Tsukuba in Japan indicates that the bacteria in your intestines may influence normal sleep patterns by helping create important chemical messengers in the brain, known as neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin.

The gut microbiome has multiple signaling mechanisms that allow it to communicate with the brain in ways that can influence a person’s appetite, mood, stress levels, and even sleep. 

The gut works with hormones and nerves to communicate with the brain and regulates sleep and mental states through the gut-brain axis

How is your gut health connected to sleep?

Gut health impacts sleep via its influence on the brain. Your gut microbiome and brain can affect each other in the following ways:

  1. Gut bacteria trigger the release of immune system chemicals, which the brain detects and reacts to.
  2. Gut microbes may regulate the secretion of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, which signal your brain to take necessary actions. Serotonin is found mostly within the stomach and intestines, which is where gut health again becomes so important. 
  3. The vagus nerve connects the gut and the brain. So, metabolites produced by bacteria in the gut after breaking down food could travel to the brain and affect sleep.
  4. Lack of sleep can increase stress, which affects the gut. Sleep deprivation can cause hormonal imbalance and increase the levels of cortisol– the stress hormone. Increased stress levels can increase the permeability of the intestines (the leaky gut), increasing the passage of toxins and food from the intestines to blood. This can lead to inflammation, bloating, stomach pain, food sensitivities, and alter the gut  gut microbiome.
  5. Sleep deprivation can influence dietary choices. If you are sleep deprived, the levels of hormones that control hunger can go a bit haywire, increasing appetite. When you feel tired, you’re more likely to consume unhealthy foods for quick boost of energy. (processed carbohydrates, trans fats, and sugar-the foods can negatively impact your gut health.
  6. Lack of melatonin-the sleep hormone could be associated with gastroesophageal reflex disease (GERD). Melatonin is a hormone that is generated more at night, as it helps us fall asleep. Melatonin also helps regulate gastrointestinal (GI) mobility. When melatonin levels are thrown off, it can be difficult to sleep-and it could potentially lead to GERD.
  7. If you stay up late, you may eat too close to bedtime, which has negative effects on your digestive health. One must not eat within three hours of going to bed. You do not want the body to be burdened with absorption and digestion while you are sleeping, since that is when your body is supposed to be rejuvenating and doing housekeeping tasks. In addition, it could also keep you up and result in restless sleep.
  8. The depletion of gut microbes can eliminate serotonin from the gut, the hormone that controls the sleep-wake cycles. Thus, choosing your food wisely could help with your sleeping problems!

Neurotransmitters for good sleep

A healthy gut with appropriate levels of neurotransmitters can help attain optimal rest. Neurotransmitters important for good sleep are as follows:

  • Dopamine: Dopamine is a natural transmitter used to send signals back and forth between the nerve cells. It is also what helps us learn, think, process, and feel pleasure.  
  • Serotonin: Serotonin is a mood-stabilizing hormone that focuses more on emotional effects by lowering anxiety and depression. 
  • GABA: Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that can help prevent negative feelings of stress, fear, and anxiety.
  • Melatonin: The hormone reacts to darkness and regulates the body’s biological clock so that the body knows when to stay active and when to rest. 

Can sleep affect what is going on in the gut? 

According to a report published in EMBO Reports in 2019,  the composition of the gut microbiome fluctuates during the day and night, and these fluctuations contribute to programming of sleep genes including those that regulate the circadian cycles

study published in in mSphere in 2020  indicated that disturbances in circadian rhythms caused by changes in sleep patterns affect the human gut microbiota, especially microbial interactions. 

study published in 2019 in PLoS One  identified a link between the gut microbiome composition, sleep patterns, cognition, and the immune system. Researchers found that the gut microbiome diversity impacted the duration and efficiency of sleep.

An article published in February 2022 in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine investigated the role of the gut microbiome in sleep apnea, a condition that occurs when a person stops breathing, which can disrupt sleep and increase the risk of disease and death. People with sleep apnea were found to have a different gut microbe community than those without disrupted sleep.

How do I boost my gut health and improve sleep?

Your diet can enormously affect the levels of these neurotransmitters in the human body. 

A study reported that increased microbiome diversity was related to longer duration of sleep and better sleep efficiency.

Here are a few tips on improving your gut health to fix your sleep problems:

Consume prebiotics and probiotics

Probiotics are live bacteria found in foods and supplements, whereas prebiotics are the food these bacteria eat. 

Both prebiotics and probiotics are nutrients that can not only produce favorable changes in the gut microflora but also improve brain functioning and overall health. When you eat probiotic foods, good bacteria may take up residence in your gut, increasing the diversity of the gut microbiome.

Prebiotic foods include onions, apples, asparagus, onions, garlic, leeks, artichokes, dandelion, chicory root, bananas, beans like lentils and chickpeas, and whole grains such as oats, rye, and barley.

Probiotic foods are fermented foods such as yogurt, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, and cheese varieties such as aged cheddar, Swiss and Parmesan cheese.  

study presented at the Sleep 2019 meeting found that among individuals sleeping for shorter periods and at different times, the gut microbial community was related to increased wakefulness following periods of poor sleep.

Switch from Western diets to plant-based diets

  • To maintain a healthy, balanced diet, limit the intake of processed sugars, fat, sugary foods, and refined carbohydrates such as pasta, rice, and white bread.
  • Increase the intake of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and berries and other high-fibre foods. Fibre can enhance the production of healthy bacteria in the body and promote good sleep.
  • Collagen supplements can stimulate the growth of healthy intestinal tissue and thus, prevent leaky gut-associated inflammation.
  • Increase the consumption of apple Cider vinegar: Apple cider vinegar has many medical benefits, including improving gut health. It is made of yest and bacteria and supplies the body with increased acidity to fight infection and prevent inflammation while improving overall digestion.  

Reduce the level of stress

We know the relationship between stress and sleep, but stress impacts gut health too. It interferes with the communication between your gut and the rest of the body, creating confusion and preventing your body from functioning properly. 

Other factors than can help improve your gut health include eating slowly, staying hydrated, exercising regularly, and avoiding nicotine and alcohol consumption.

How to reduce stomach discomfort during sleep?

When you suffer from gut irritation or pain, it can be difficult to sleep. Chronic bloating, heartburn, and gas can keep you tossing and turning through the night. 

Here are a few things you can do to alleviate stomach discomfort to help you sleep better.

  1. Don’t eat before bed: Big meals before bedtime can keep you up late at night, with the body busy at work digesting your food rather than winding down for rest. Eat your last meal two to three hours before bed and stick to healthy snacks if you get hungry before you go to sleep.  
  2. Side sleeping: Side sleepers  could use pillows to support the body while sleeping.  According to the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, sleeping on the left side helps prevent acid reflux by helping your stomach digest food more easily. 
  3. Sleep on your backBack sleepers benefit from less pressure on the body, with many experiencing less pain and improved acid reflux management.
  4. Avoid stomach sleeping: This is not typically recommended by experts, as it can put added stress on your neck and back. Instead, consider sleeping on your back.
  5. Invest in a new mattress: No matter how you sleep, it may not matter if you sleep on a bumpy, worn out mattress. Consider investing in a new mattress to improve your sleep.

Sleep remedies include exercise, lavender oil, valerian root, chamomile, mindful meditation, and consuming foods that are rich in magnesium, especially in the evening, may help induce feelings of sleepiness including nuts, dry beans, seeds, oat bran, and wheat germ.

Heal my gut

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The Bottom Line

Your gut health can play a vital role in how well you sleep. In turn, sleep can affect how well the digestive system functions. 

The microbiome can affect sleep by hindering the sleep-wake cycle, circadian rhythm, and hormones that regulate wakefulness and sleep. Poor quality sleep  an alter the balance of hunger and satiety hormones, increase food cravings, and cause weight gain.

Changing your diet could improve a person’s sleep and serve as a natural and simple substitute to sleeping pills, which can have side effects such as gastrointestinal problems and daytime drowsiness.

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