Sleep and Gut Health

By Lisa Shanken | Healthy Living

Welcome to my two part series on sleep. Sleep is probably the number one most important thing you can do to improve and maintain good overall health, which is why it warrants a 2 part series.

In today’s part I, I will focus on sleep’s relationship with gut health and the microbiome. More and more research points to the gut’s impact on overall physical and mental health.

New research is showing that the health of the gut may affect sleep in multiple ways including circadian rhythms, sleep-wake cycles, and sleep hormones. In addition, preliminary research in mice from the National Institutes of Health is also showing that sleep apnea can have a significant impact on the flora in the microbiome.

Because studies show that gut health has a direct relationship with depression and anxiety, this is yet another example of how gut health can impact sleep (Given that anxiety and depression often interfere with sleep.). The same can be true for stress as well as hormones and neurotransmitters that get released in the gut such as dopamine, serotonin, melatonin, cortisol, and GABA. The gut microbes work hard to regulate these hormones and neurotransmitters to maintain balance, but under stress, they can get deregulated.

In general, some new fascinating research at the University of Chicago Medical Center is showing that the gut microbiome has its own daily rhythms, which can influence circadian rhythms. These daily gut rhythms are strongly influenced by diet, benefiting from fermented foods and beneficial bacteria like probiotics. Plus, mice in this study fed an unhealthy diet also gained weight, which can lead to obesity, which, in turn, can also negatively affect sleep quality.

Here are a few tips on how to improve sleep:

  1. Improve your gut health by constantly replenishing it with the good microbes that help the gut flourish. You can get these from probiotic supplements, fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut, and grass-fed dairy products like yogurt and kefir.
  2. Help the beneficial bacteria already in your gut flourish even more by feeding them prebiotics – things like garlic, honey, asparagus, whole oats, and avocados. These foods have indigestible fibers that help the flora in your gut multiply.
  3. Avoid things that lead to the detrimental leaky gut like refined sugars, pesticides, overuse of antibiotics, and toxic chemicals found in a range of common everyday products from skincare to household cleaning agents.
  4. Develop a healthy sleep hygiene ritual like avoiding screens an hour before bedtime, keeping your bedroom dark before bedtime, consistent sleep and wake times, and practicing a relaxing ritual before going to sleep.

Implementing these tips as well as staying consistent with them often requires assistance and mentorship. If you think you or anyone you know may benefit from this type of counseling, please feel free to reach out for an appointment.

Stay tuned for part II of our look at sleep, where we’ll focus on strategies directly related to regulating sleep and the benefits that can have on your body.