By Benjamin Semmens, Registered Nutritionist (BHSc)
When you’re not getting enough sleep, we often look to blame stress, anxiety, and medications as the culprits, but what if it’s actually poor gut health causing your sleepless nights.
Every single of us has our own unique gut microbiome, where trillions of our gut bacteria reside that affects our mood, digestion, inflammation, overall health, and perhaps even our sleep.
While the research on gut health and sleep is still emerging, we now have evidence to suggest that the health of your gut can influence how you sleep.
You’ve probably seen a bunch of advertisements claiming that you need to buy fancy gut supplements to repair your gut, but it’s really not necessary.
In this blog you’ll learn about gut health and its effects on sleep and how you can repair your gut without breaking the bank with some simple diet and lifestyle changes.
What is gut health?
‘Gut health’ is one of those terms getting thrown around a lot lately, but what does it even mean? Gut health refers to your gut microbiome that’s made up of trillions of tiny microbes aka germs. While the majority of these microbes are bacteria-viruses and fungi also reside in the gut too.
But aren’t bacteria bad for us? Yes, they can be, especially if we have too much bad bacteria, however good bacteria are beneficial for your health and are needed for many functions in the body including regulating hormones, immune health, appetite, digestion, metabolism, mood and our stress responses. Hence why our gut microbiome is often referred to as our ‘second brain’.
What’s the gut/brain connection and how does it influence sleep?
Another fascinating role of the microbiome is that it produces and releases many neurotransmitters in the gut that influence sleep and our mood including dopamine (reward chemical), serotonin (happy chemical), and GABA (relaxing chemical). Our gut even produces our sleep hormone melatonin that’s involved in your sleep/wake cycle. (1) (2)
We all have our own unique gut microbiome which contains both good and bad bacteria that’s influenced by a range of factors including our genetics, environment, and diet. However, sometimes this balance can become disrupted by an increase in the growth of bad bacteria. There are many causes for dysbiosis including poor diet, stress, health conditions and medications such as antibiotics.
This imbalance of gut bacteria is sometimes referred to as dysbiosis that has shown to affect both our physical and mental health by influencing our mood, metabolism, heart health and immune system. In addition, dysbiosis is also associated with the increased risk of many chronic health conditions. (3)
While scientists now understand that our gut plays a role in many bodily functions, there’s now strong evidence to suggest that gut microbiome plays an important role in anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders that can impact our sleep (4).
In fact, recent research has shown that when our circadian rhythms are dysregulated, it affects the healthy function of the microbiome suggesting a strong relationship between the gut microbiome and sleep (5).
A 2017 study in the Journal of Sleep Medicine assessed the role of the microbiome on sleep in adults aged between 50-85. Researchers found that higher levels of beneficial gut bacteria resulted in better sleep quality and brain function. (6)
How to fix your gut health and improve your sleep!
There are a bunch of strategies that can help to improve the diversity and health of your gut. And when your gut is healthy, you'll not only be reducing your risk of chronic disease, but also supporting your mental health and sleep too!
Having a healthy gut not only reduces your risk of chronic disease such as inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, and cancer, but also supports your mental health and overall sleep hygiene. Here are few tips to help you get there:
1. Avoid processed foods
What you eat has significant impacts on your gut health! Studies have shown that eating processed foods high in sugar and fat can alter the population of your gut microbiome, decreasing the number of healthy bacteria in your gut. (7) Replacing these foods with unprocessed nutrient dense foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, nuts, and seeds can help to protect and restore the healthy bacteria in your gut.
2. Eat the rainbow
We’re not suggesting the impossible task of chasing leprechauns. Instead, just eat a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables. Plants contain an abundance of beneficial plant compounds (phytonutrients) such as antioxidants that are beneficial for your health. When you ‘eat the rainbow’ you’re providing a large diversity of nutrients that your gut bacteria can feed on that will benefit your health and your sleep! (8)
3. Try prebiotics
Yes, you read that right, prebiotics, not probiotics! Prebiotics are a type of fibre that feed the healthy bacteria in your gut. The best sources of prebiotics include bananas, apples, asparagus, artichokes, onions, leeks, and garlic. A 2017 study in the frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience found that a diet containing prebiotics not only reduced stress but also improved sleep! (9)
4. Regular exercise
Studies have consistently shown that regular exercise can change your gut health for the better, by altering the diversity of your microbiome that can boost your health and could improve your sleep! Moderate exercise has shown to reduce inflammation and reduce intestinal permeability aka leaky gut, a contributing factor to dysbiosis. Exercise every day to improve your gut bacteria. (10)
It’s no secret that stress is disastrous for your health, but stress can also wreak havoc on your gut! Studies have shown that stress is associated with changes in the gut microbiome that can alter our mood affecting your sleep. (11)
One of the best ways to manage stress and anxiety is through practicing mindfulness. For more information on how to practice mindfulness and other stress management techniques check out our blog 7 Natural tips for beating anxiety and getting a good night.
You don’t need to go out and buy expensive probiotics, instead you can focus on simple diet and lifestyle strategies that have been proven to be beneficial for your gut health.
If you have any other questions or need some extra support with your health, feel free to email our head nutritionist Ben at email@example.com and subscribe to our blog for more updates.
This article does not constitute medical advice and does not take into consideration your personal circumstances. Please see your medical professional before implementing the above.