Introduction to Gut Health and Sleep

Our gut health and the quality of our sleep are far more connected than you may think. This is due to the gut-brain axis; the complex relationship between the two.

There is two-way communication that occurs between our central nervous system and our digestive tract, and this links to the quality of our sleep.

It’s important to note that although the gut impacts sleep, sleep also impacts the gut, so you need to be mindful of both to achieve optimum health. 

How Does Sleep Influence Gut Health?

Hormone Imbalance 

If you are lacking in sleep, your hormones can become unbalanced which can be seriously unpleasant. The stress hormone cortisol can rise which can cause leaky gut. This means that food and toxins can pass through the intestines into the bloodstream, wreaking havoc on your body.1

Which Side You Sleep On

The concept of which side you sleep on affects your digestion is a relatively new idea, but studies are showing a huge link in this area. It is currently recommended that you sleep on your left side rather than your right. 

Your stomach’s natural position is on the left side of your body, and when you sleep on the left, gravity helps the waste travel from the small intestine to the large intestine. On your right side, gravity is working against you, making digestion harder throughout the night.2

Higher Risk of Disease

Not getting enough sleep can impact your digestive health by increasing the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and gastrointestinal diseases.

It can influence the foods you choose to eat3 as you will likely crave more carbohydrates and sugars for energy if you aren’t well-rested. The food you eat can be a huge factor in your risk of developing gastrointestinal and metabolic diseases.

How To Heal The Gut To Benefit Sleep

Some foods may be impacting your sleep. Generally, a good rule of thumb is to not eat anything directly before bed, as your body then needs to spend time at night focusing on digesting that food rather than rejuvenating your body.

Don’t forget, looking after your gut can have huge benefits for your overall health including your sleep. We all get hungry at night sometimes though, and it’s important to know what to avoid if you are going to eat.

Here are some simple steps you can take to heal your gut microbiome that may help you drift off, have better quality sleep and have longer sleep. 

Alcohol

Although alcohol can make us feel like we drift off easier, it may reduce the quality of our sleep significantly. Alcohol can interrupt the natural sleep cycle, decreasing the amount of REM sleep that you get through the night.

REM is when your body is in restorative mode, so losing out on this reduces the benefits of a full night's sleep. Alcohol can also cause acid reflux, as the oesophageal sphincter muscle is over-relaxed throughout the night.4

Spicy Foods

Spicy foods and acidic foods can also cause heartburn throughout the night, so these should be avoided before bed. Spicy foods not only cause heartburn but can also raise your body temperature. For most people, our body temperature should be lower to fall asleep, so having a raised body temperature can keep you awake longer than necessary.5

Heavy Foods

Eating heavy foods such as fried and fatty foods before bed can also impact the quality of our sleep. These foods take longer to digest, so your body is working harder than it needs to throughout the night to digest what you’ve put in. 

High Water Content Foods 

Even what you may consider a healthy choice of fruit can have negative effects on your sleep throughout the night if you eat it too close to bedtime. Eating foods with a high water content before bed can disrupt your sleep, as these foods will fill your bladder as they digest.

This may cause you to need to get up to empty your bladder during the night. Being well hydrated is essential to overall health, but consuming these foods right before bed can disrupt your rest. 

Caffeine

Caffeine can be hidden in foods you don’t expect; it’s not only present in drinks like tea and coffee. Chocolate food products often have high caffeine content, so snacking on chocolate before bed can reduce the amount of REM sleep you get, and make it difficult to get a decent rest.

You will likely stay in the light stages of sleep if you have caffeine in your system before bed, which isn’t as restful for your body.6

Final Thoughts

Understanding how important sleep is for gut health and gut health is for sleep has proven beneficial in terms of overall health. Now you know that gut health is fundamental to your sleep cycle and the sleep cycle is fundamental to gut health, you can be more aware of the choices you make before bed.

References

  1. https://www.henryford.com/blog/2021/02/sleep-affects-gut-health#:~:text=When%20you%20don't%20get,intestine%20and%20into%20the%20bloodstream.
  2. https://opa.org.uk/the-best-side-to-sleep-on-for-digestion-and-other-benefits/#:~:text=The%20stomach's%20natural%20position%20is,intestine%20to%20the%20large%20intestine.
  3. https://joinzoe.com/learn/gut-health-affects-sleep
  4. Jiaqi Pan, Li Cen, Weixing Chen, Chaohui Yu, Youming Li, Zhe Shen, Alcohol Consumption and the Risk of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis, Alcohol and Alcoholism, Volume 54, Issue 1, January 2019, Pages 62–69, https://doi.org/10.1093/alcalc/agy063
  5. Stephen J. Edwards, Iain M. Montgomery, Eric Q. Colquhoun, Jo E. Jordan, Michael G. Clark, Spicy meal disturbs sleep: an effect of thermoregulation?,International Journal of Psychophysiology, Volume 13, Issue 2, 1992, Pages 97-100, https://doi.org/10.1016/0167-8760(92)90048-G.
  6. Jan Snel, Monicque M. Lorist, Chapter 6 - Effects of caffeine on sleep and cognition, Editor(s): Hans P.A. Van Dongen, Gerard A. Kerkhof, Progress in Brain Research, Elsevier, Volume 190, 2011, Pages 105-117, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/B9780444538178000062

 

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