Is your sleep a steaming pile of dung? Your gut health plays a role in your sleep.
There has been some really fascinating research that has come out regarding your sleep and your guts, well more specifically your gut microbiome.
Your gut health and the quality of your sleep have a symbiotic relationship and at times a dysfunctional relationship.
Your gut consists of billions of microbes that help to digest food and assimilate nutrients for the body to use. These microbes also produce metabolites which can signal other parts of the body to turn off, turn on, or to produce something.
Some of the products that are produced by these microbes are serotonin, dopamine, melatonin, and GABA to regulate sleep cycles.
The brain has a direct pathway to your gut via the gut-brain axis. Have you ever heard that saying about your stomach being your second brain or to go with your gut feeling? That is where it comes from. They interact directly with each other quite frequently and they can influence each other.
When your sleep patterns are sub par it directly affects these microbes and causes an imbalance of good to bad ones. On the flip side, a poor balance of microbes can send metabolites to the brain that cause fragmented sleep or insomnia.
Let me bring you up to speed on a study that was done at the University of Tsukuba in Japan. They messed around with the microbiome of mice and hooked up super tiny sensors to monitor their sleep.
They fed one group of mice antibiotics to disrupt their microbiome while the other was a control group.
The group of mice that received the antibiotics had almost all of their serotonin eliminated from their gut. For reference 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut. The antibiotics had shut down the tryptophan to serotonin pathway. The mice were found to have more tryptophan than the control group, but no serotonin.
Serotonin’s role in your sleep has to do with melatonin production. The amino acid tryptophan converts to serotonin which then is converted to melatonin. If there is no serotonin there is no building block for melatonin. Melatonin is your master hormone for sleep and regulating circadian rhythm. In addition, serotonin levels in the brain can affect sleep/wake cycles. One of the main symptoms of depression is insomnia and this is due to the theory that some depression is caused by low serotonin levels.
The mice with a poor microbiome were low in vitamin B6. B6 plays a role in producing serotonin and melatonin.
When the mice were sleeping they experienced more REM episodes than the control group and they switched more frequently between sleep and wake cycles which means the mice were waking up multiple times.
The extra REM sleep comes at the expense of deep restorative sleep. Deep sleep is when the body recharges itself and does repairs throughout the body. The extra time spent in REM for a person could have the side effects of more nightmares and vivid dreams possibly disrupting sleep further.
Ok so how can you apply this? I hope I didn’t lose you. The first impulse is to run out and get probiotics, but that would not be recommended yet.
Factors that impact your gut health and sleep
Take inventory of what your diet and lifestyle looks like and see where you can eliminate factors that are working against your microbiome.
- High stress levels
- Too much added sugar
- High caffeine consumption
- Chlorinated water
- Refined grains
- Shift work
Things you can add to your diet and lifestyle
- Fermented foods
- Fiber in the form of fruit, vegetables, whole grains – 25g a day minimum
- Pre-biotics – this is food for the bacteria in your gut
- Stress reduction techniques
- Clean water preferably mineral water
- Possibly pro-biotics, but only once you have eliminated the negatives and added in the other positives.
Studies have shown that increasing fiber intake leads to deeper and higher quality sleep.