We all know that getting enough sleep is important. But how important? Sleep impacts our mental health, emotional health, and physical health. But with our busy lives and hectic schedules, it’s often easy to put a good night’s rest on the back burner. Sometimes, even when we get into bed at a reasonable hour, we may not be able to fall asleep or stay asleep. However, recent research confirms continuous sleep deprivation can have more far-ranging consequences on health than we may have once realized, with negative impacts demonstrated on our intestinal microbiomes, immune system, insulin resistance and weight management, amongst a myriad of other health issues.
Sleep and Your Microbiome: A Two-Way Street It may be tempting to think that a couple of late nights won’t hurt in the long run, but not getting enough sleep affects your gut health much sooner than you would expect. A 2016 Swedish study showed that after just two nights of less than six hours of sleep, the number of certain beneficial gut bacteria strains was reduced by almost half, while less desirable strains increased in numbers. To make matters worse, the study participants were almost 20% less sensitive to insulin (1), which will result in higher blood sugar levels and increased risks for diabetes. Our second brain — the digestive tract — also has a huge impact on how much sleep and the quality of sleep we get, too. Our microbiome plays a role in our moods, hormones, neurotransmitters, and stress levels — all of which can affect our sleep. Interestingly, about 60-90% of patients with IBS symptoms report mood conditions, such as depression, anxiety and insomnia. Stress hormones, particularly cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine, are all demonstrated to increase significantly under states of sleep deprivation. Mice models have now confirmed that mice exposed to stress have 68% reduction in the diversity of their microbiome, and 72% increase in GI-related disorders when compared to controls (2). What’s even more interesting is that the use of a specific probiotic, L. rhamnosus JB-1, increases GABA reception in the hippocampus through the vagus nerve, and reduced stress-induced corticosterone and anxiety/depression-related behaviours (3). To optimize the health of your microbiome, ensure to:
Eat a whole foods, plant-rich diet.
Eat probiotic foods, like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha (if they’re tolerated, and if you don’t have SIBO)
Add prebiotic foods, like artichokes, asparagus, and apples, to your diet (if they’re tolerated, and if you don’t have SIBO).
Avoid refined sugars, simple carbohydrates, and processed foods.
Get regular exercise – this lowers your cortisol and improves your sleep quality.
Consider testing your microbiome
Improve Your Sleep Habits to Improve Your Gut Health
Stay away from electronics — especially before bedtime. While many cell phones and other electronics now come with a nighttime setting, the stimulation from screen time can still disrupt melatonin production. Turn off your devices about two hours before bedtime to ensure your brain is relaxed and ready for sleep.
Keep your room dark and cool. Ambient light can disrupt circadian cycles and melatonin production. Consider purchasing blackout curtains to reduce exposure to ambient light from outside, cover the LCD screens of clocks and electronics, and make sure to turn off the television. Turning down the thermostat is also conducive to a good night’s rest.
Stick to a regular bedtime — even on the weekends. It’s tempting to stay up on the weekends in order to fully maximize our downtime. However, our bodies are designed to stick to a routine and a disruption to that routine will impact circadian rhythms.
Limit your caffeine intake. Make sure to check your favourite teas for caffeine and skip the coffee after lunch. If you need a midday boost, consider taking a B-complex vitamin or some adrenal-supportive herbs for a natural pick-me-up that won’t impact your ability to fall asleep.
For more information about your digestive health, or to discuss your sleep concerns, please feel free to contact your local Toronto Naturopath, Dr. Courtney Holmberg, ND. Book an appointment online or call 647-351-7282 today!
Benedict, C., Vogel, H., Jonas, W., Woting, A., Blaut, M., Schürmann, A., &Cedernaes, J. (2016). Gut microbiota and glucometabolic alterations in response to recurrent partial sleep deprivation in normal-weight young individuals. Molecular Metabolism, 5(12), 1175-1186. doi:10.1016/j.molmet.2016.10.003
Rea K, Dinan TG, Cryan JF. The microbiome: A key regulator of stress and neuroinflammation. Neurobiol Stress. 2016 Mar 4;4:23-33. eCollection 2016 Oct.
Javier A. Bravo, Paul Forsythe, Marianne V. Chew, Emily Escaravage, Hélène M. Savignac, Timothy G. Dinan, John Bienenstock, and John F. Cryan. Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve. PNAS September 20, 2011 108 (38) 16050- 16055; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1102999108