We spend approximately a third of our lives asleep. Sleep is an essential process, and without it, we cannot function optimally. It is as essential to our bodies as eating, drinking and breathing, and is vital for maintaining good mental and physical health.
Sleeping helps to repair and restore our brain and body and can affect the gut in many ways. During sleep, our brains work hard to process information, consolidate memories, and undergo several maintenance processes that help us to function during the day and feel at our best.
In this article, we will discuss the role that sleep plays in our gut health and how we can improve and maximise our sleep patterns.
The Gut-Sleep Connection
Your gut impacts your sleep in two important ways:
1) Through regulation of a critical sleep hormone ‘melatonin’
2) Through communication with your brain known as the gut-brain axis
Good quality sleep normally happens when we spend enough time in all of the 5 REM stages (Wake, N1, N2, N3 & REM), especially deep sleep which is key to us feeling refreshed the next day.
Sleep and health are strongly related. Poor sleep can increase the risk of having poor health, and poor health can make it harder to sleep.
When we aren’t sleeping properly, we become more prone to mental health problems like anxiety and depression, as well as increasing our risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases, and poor gut health.
There is also a strong link between our sleep patterns and our gut microbiome composition, i.e. our balance of good and bad bacteria. Sleeping poorly can lead to changes within the gut microbiome, decreasing bacterial diversity and increasing the number of 'bad' bacteria that can cause inflammation.
Poor sleep can also reduce our ‘good’ bacteria that support our immunity and produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which help reduce inflammation and improve our quality of sleep.
Eating a healthy diet high in probiotics and prebiotics can also enhance the gut microbiome to improve the health of the brain-gut-immune axis and our sleep-wake cycle.
Lastly, beyond gut health, having poor sleep can also increase our daily risk for mistakes, injuries, or accidents. It is crucial for our health!
How Lack of Sleep Can Affect Gut Health
1) Lack of sleep can increase stress and lower our immunity
When we don’t get enough sleep, our stress hormone, cortisol, can rise. This can lead to intestinal permeability, also known as leaky gut, where food and toxins can pass through the intestine and into the bloodstream more easily.
This can lead to issues such as brain fog, bloating, joint inflammation, stomach pains, food sensitivities, and changes to gut bacteria.
2) Lack of sleep can affect dietary choices
When you’re sleep-deprived, your hunger signals can become out of balance, leading to increased appetite or no appetite at all. Fatigue can also affect our decision-making when it comes to food, making us more likely to turn to unhealthy food choices for quick energy boosts. This can negatively affect our long-term eating habits.
Lack of melatonin may be related to GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease)
GERD, or ‘acid reflux’, can cause stomach acid to rise causing an unpleasant burning sensation, leading to heartburn and regurgitation during the night.
It has been found that people with GERD are more likely to have sleep disorders. Taking melatonin supplements to replenish the sleep hormone has been shown to reduce symptoms of GERD.
3) Late-night eating can lead to poor digestion.
Eating within 3 hours of going to bed can affect digestion and nutrient absorption negatively whilst you are sleeping. This can affect the body’s recuperation process and can cause restless sleep. Try to eat your last big meal 3 hours before sleep.
4) Lack of sleep can reduce our motivation to exercise
Exercise is important for our good gut bacteria and overall health. Poor sleep can lead to a lack of energy and motivation to exercise and affect our ability to focus.
We are also more prone to injury and illness when exercising with poor sleep habits. Our gut bacteria need regular exercise to thrive, multiply, and diversify. Exercise also increases short-chain fatty acid called butyrate, which protects our gut barrier lining.
How to Improve Gut Health & Sleep
1) Try probiotics
Probiotics found in supplements, fermented foods like yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and even pickled vegetables can improve the health of your microbiome. We recommend our Gut Care, containing 6.1 billion+ (6.1 x 109 CFU) of good bacteria. This may help to boost serotonin levels and melatonin production during sleep.
2) Consume tryptophan-rich foods
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that can’t be produced by the human body and must be consumed through food, in either animal or plant-based sources.
Tryptophan helps to regulate the sleep-wake cycle by converting to serotonin, and subsequently into melatonin after digestion. Consume plenty of peanuts, pumpkin and sesame seeds, chicken, eggs, fish, turkey, tofu, and soy.
3) Avoid Caffeine
Caffeine has a half-life of several hours and, if consumed too late, it can keep us up at night. Don’t consume caffeinated beverages past noon, or cut them out altogether. Even though you may think afternoon or evening caffeine doesn’t bother you, studies show it affects everyone’s quality of sleep.
4) Limit Alcohol
Particularly alcohol consumption close to bedtime. Alcohol can be a major sleep disruptor and can act as a stimulant at night, which can interfere with your evening routine. Limit your consumption to no more than one alcoholic beverage and not within two hours of bedtime.
5) Try Cherry Juice
Cherries contain tryptophan and anthocyanins, two compounds that help the body create melatonin. Research shows that supplementing with tart cherry juice increases levels of melatonin and helps improve sleep quality and duration.
6) Sip herbal teas
Chamomile and passionflower tea have been found to help induce sleep and relaxation in the body. Chamomile is widely regarded as a mild tranquilliser and sleep-inducer. Its sedative effects may be due to the flavonoid, apigenin that binds to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain causing us to feel sleepy. Consuming herbal tea before bedtime can help to establish a sleep routine and improve your circadian rhythm.
7) Avoid eating too close to bedtime
Digestion is an active process that can stimulate you and keep you awake. Eating too close to bedtime can also lead to heartburn, which is very disruptive to sleep.
Sleep is a vital component of our health, in the same way that eating a healthy diet and regular exercise is. Lack of sleep can reduce our healthy bacteria, and equally, an unhealthy gut microbiome can have negative effects on our sleep.
We should all try to prioritise a good sleep routine along with regular exercise and a healthy diet to optimise not only our gut health but all aspects of our wellbeing.