Good quality sleep improves your microbiome and digestive process. Here’s how to achieve it.
Do you think of sleep as a reward to enjoy at the end of each day? Or does it feel more like a chore?
If you care about your general well-being, we suggest you go with the first! Recently, the American Heart Association added healthy sleep to the list of eight essentials for healthy life, given its impact on the brain, cardiovascular and immune systems, and the gut. [ENDDEK]
Your gut needs you to sleep
Body systems work synergistically, which explains why a sleep-deprived, imbalanced gut can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
“Sleep deprivation can reduce the effectiveness of how the gut operates and digests. This can lead to bloating, gas, and constipation, and can also affect how sensitive a person is to food,” says Tamzin Morley, ND.
More specifically, lack of sleep can cause an increase in pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines and can reduce the amount of beneficial anti-inflammatory short-chain fatty acids and bile acids.
Plus, when we’re tired, we’re often drawn to all the wrong foods with a seemingly insatiable appetite—you know the feeling. This is due to an increase in ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and a decrease in leptin (the satiety hormone).
The effects are amplified by the fact that sleep deprivation also reduces insulin sensitivity—which can occur after just a couple of nights of poor quality or reduced sleep time.
How poor sleep affects gut health
Getting too little sleep or experiencing fragmented sleep can result in dysbiosis, an imbalance resulting in the overgrowth of certain bacteria, which can ultimately lead to increased risk of metabolic imbalance, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
These changes in the microbiome can happen within 48 hours of insufficient sleep, so if you’re occasionally choosing shorter sleep on the weekend, make sure to support your gut with fiber-rich whole foods.
While dysbiosis is the general term for the imbalance caused by a myriad of factors such as aging, lack of exercise, unhealthy diet, and, yes, sleep deprivation, the resulting effects are similar. Dysbiosis increases gut inflammation and can lead to a condition called “leaky gut,” where the gut lining becomes permeable to bacteria fragments and metabolites.
And poor gut health affects sleep
The connection between gut health and sleep goes deeper yet, as it seems that poor sleep may be a consequence of digestive conditions, such as changes in the microbiome, obesity, gastroesophageal reflux, inflammatory bowel disease, and liver or pancreatic diseases.
But there is a silver lining, especially for those who have few choices due to job or life requirements. The impact of sleep deprivation on the gut is amplified with diets high in fat and sugar. Choose kale chips over ultraprocessed foods and reduce grazing to allow your digestive system to rest.
The cortisol connection
Take a deep breath: that will also help engage the parasympathetic nervous system, since lack of sleep presents with yet another problematic (and compounded) issue. “Sleep deprivation can increase the amount of cortisol produced, which can lead to weight gain,” says Morley.
Our cortisol levels are lowest when we go to bed and increase when we get up. But being sleep deprived keeps the cortisol levels elevated, and yes, this will cause reduced sleep quality and affect our ability to get restorative, deep sleep.
Sleeping through the ages
Youthfulness comes with perks, including the ability to get restorative sleep, which lowers the risk of metabolic imbalances and gut disturbances. However, according to the CDC, nearly 58 percent of middle school students and 73 percent of high school students don’t get enough sleep on school nights.
Adult life comes with many responsibilities (distractions too), and sleep—inevitably—takes a lower place on the priority list, which can, in turn, affect well-being and increase the risk of chronic illness. That’s concerning considering more than one third of American adults don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis!
Sleep quality can also decrease with age, which can further accentuate digestion issues.
“The production of hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes decreases as we age, which makes digestion more difficult. Also, there are physiological age-related changes in the gut microbiome,” Morley says. These changes can lead to decreased absorption of nutrients, so make sure to consume a variety of nutritious whole foods daily.
Bottom line: prioritize sleep!
Think of sleep as one of the highest return investments in your long-term health, and make seven to nine hours a night non-negotiable.
No matter your bad sleep history, start making changes today—no matter how small—toward better sleep. You and your trillions of gut bugs will be healthier and happier for it. [END]
What’s stopping you from getting quality sleep?
There are a number of factors that affect our ability to get—and stay—asleep. Here are a few:
- heavy dinners
- caffeine late in the day (past 2 pm)
- nightcaps (alcohol may cause lethargy, but sleep quality will suffer)
- blue light (yes, digital screens)
- activities that increase cortisol levels (intense physical training, stress—both acute and chronic)
exerts positive effects on sleep quality
improves restless leg syndrome, sleep quality, and fatigue among those with iron deficiency
may promote sleep and prevent anxiety related to sleep loss
may reduce stress-related insomnia
may assist REM sleep behavior disorder and excessive daytime sleepiness
- Keep your bedroom cool.
- Get exposure to natural light upon waking.
- Drink a calming herbal tea after dinner (peppermint, chamomile, lemon balm).
- Munch on naturally fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi regularly. They contain probiotic bacteria and prebiotics, plus vitamins and minerals formed during fermentation.
Supplement your digestion
Oral probiotics can improve the gut barrier and reduce inflammation. They can also reduce the severity of asthma attacks and allergy symptoms in children. However, given the multitude of options, consult with a health professional for best suited probiotic supplement.
This amino acid can help improve digestive health by decreasing intestinal permeability and reducing inflammation.
Essential to maintaining the integrity of the gut lining, vitamin D needs to be converted to its active form by diverse and beneficial gut bacteria.
A powerful antioxidant, vitamin C can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage in the gut.