Gut health & sleep link
What is gut health?
Your gut is a complex organ, and it is not only responsible for the breakdown and absorption of food. Incredibly, your heart has neural tissue and tissue embedded in the walls, which make and release hormones like serotonin. Your gut microbiome is just as intriguing: the colony of bacteria cells that reside in your colon outnumbers the entirety of your cells by a factor of ten.
See: Gut Health Diet
What is gut-brain connection?
Your gut and brain communicate in two main ways:
- Through hormones. The gut microbiome also has a say in your body and mind's functioning through activating the release of hormones or producing them. The bacteria can communicate to your nervous system, and specific types affect your production of dopamine. By lowering your serotonin levels, the gut bacteria can interfere with your sleep. Your brain and your gut can enter a vicious circle when it comes to sleep, as poor sleep can have a common effect on your gut health.
- The vagus nerve - the longest cranial nerve in your body, passes out of the skull to your stomach. Your gut also employs the vagus nerve to transmit data up to your brain. The vagus nerve interacts with the hypothalamus and limbic system that interestingly also regulates your own emotions. The vagus nerve is a data superhighway, communicating both sensory data and motion commands. Since it lines such a massive part of your body, the vagus nerve has many functions. It includes the stimulation of the muscles in your heart to make it beat. However, the vagus nerve also stimulates the movement of your gut needed to digest food.
These avenues of communication allow for subtle changes in our bodies, but at times the effects of the gut-brain link are more serious, particularly regarding your sleep.
Can a healthy gut help protect against the effect of poor sleep on cognitive health? Researchers in this study say it is potential, and their preliminary findings require additional research. Better understanding age-related cognitive decline is a significant public health issue. There's an increasing body of evidence for sleep's role in neurodegenerative diseases and cognitive decline like Alzheimer's. Researching more about the microbiome and its relationship to sleep can provide us critical new insight.
Can gut health cause high blood pressure in people with sleep apnea? Scientific evidence proves that sleep-disrupted breathing may negatively influence the microbiome. Particularly, the interrupted breathing of obstructive sleep apnea seems to have a detrimental effect on the diversity of microbes in the gut. Along with the harm to the microbiome from sleep apnea might be hard to fix, according to current research. An emerging body of scientific evidence indicates the microbiome itself plays a part in causing elevated blood pressure in people with obstructive sleep apnea.
OSA significantly increases the risk for elevated blood pressure, and higher blood pressure may result in the onset of sleep apnea. OSA-related elevated blood pressure can be tricky to treat, leaving individuals vulnerable to significant heart-health risks.
Fragmented sleep is restless, unrefreshing sleep that is characterized by many frequent awakenings through the night. Individuals who experience sleep disorders, particularly obstructive sleep apnea, frequently contend with this sort of poor sleep quality, which prevents them from spending enough time in the most restorative phases of deep sleep and REM sleep.
There is evidence that fragmented sleep results in changes in metabolism and eating patterns which increase risks for obesity and other metabolic disorders, including type 2 diabetes. In the past several decades, we have also seen an increasing body of evidence that dysfunction at the microbiome is a substantial factor driving the metabolic changes that cause obesity and other metabolic disorders.
Recent research indicates that fragmented sleep can play a significant role in the microbiome-driven effects on metabolic health, in part by activating inflammation that causes metabolic dysfunction. The relationships between sleeping, our microbiome, and metabolism are complex, and we are just starting to understand how they relate to one another. Taking measures to sleep better and addressing issues of poor quality sleep and sleep apnea helps you protect your metabolic health and lower your risks for weight gain and diabetes.
Gut health - cognitive health connection
Let us look at a number of the most recent and most exciting discoveries made about the connection between sleep and gut health. It does not take long for sleep to influence your gut. The association between sleep and the microbiome is increasingly regarded as a two-way road. Our microbiota appears to have an impact on how we sleep. Subsequently, sleep and circadian rhythms seem to impact this critical bacterial world's health and diversity that resides in our gut.
We are just starting to understand that complicated, dynamic relationship. A recent study shows not sleeping can quickly hurt microbiome health. A group of German and Swedish scientists was among the first to investigate the effect of insufficient sleep on the individual microbiome's makeup. It is a small study that included nine healthy, young, normal-weight men. None of the participants suffered from any sleeping disorders, and all had regular sleep patterns and normal eating patterns. After merely two nights of partial sleep deprivation, researchers discovered:
- A substantial decrease in forms of beneficial bacteria: Changes to the composition of microorganisms from the microbiome, which are connected specifically to obesity and type 2 diabetes
- A significant decrease in insulin sensitivity
An unhealthy gut may be a connection between poor sleep and cognitive decline. There's lots of attention paid these days to the microbiome's possible impacts on cognitive and mental health. There is increasingly powerful evidence that gut health could be an essential element in the onset of mental health-related problems such as anxiety or depression and post-traumatic anxiety disorder. Medications for depression can also influence the gut's microbial life and these drugs' capacity to effectively treat the problem.
Our second brain may substantially affect our cognitive health. A 2017 study by Kent State researchers points to this microbiome's potential function in the association between poor sleep and age-related cognitive decline. Researchers investigated the effect of the microbiome on a group of adults ages 50-85. They found strong connections between more excellent sleep quality, better cognitive flexibility, and high levels of beneficial gut microbes.
Bacteria for gut health
Beneficial bacteria may protect against the furious strain causes by sleep. We know that stress is an important contributor to sleep difficulties. Anxiety about work, finances, and family frequently wreak havoc with sleep. We are also learning more about the strong connection between bowel health and anxiety, which runs in both directions. Research suggests that stress can negatively impact gut health, and poor gut health can exacerbate the body's stress response.
Recent research indicates that one strain of beneficial bacteria may help blunt the effects of stress on sleep. Researchers in Japan studied the effect of a probiotic's daily functioning on a group of students who were planning to take a test. Researchers divided the students into two groups. For eight months leading up to the test, and three weeks later, one group drank a placebo drink each and every day, while another group drank a probiotic drink containing the germs Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota. Additionally, it is found in fermented foods such as yogurt and sold in supplement form.
Unsurprisingly, both the probiotic and placebo groups experienced increasing anxiety as exam day approached. The placebo group also saw changes in their sleep. They began taking longer to fall asleep and spent less time in deep, slow-wave sleep as their anxiety grew and evaluation day grew nearer.
The team taking the probiotic had another experience. Their anxiety levels rose as the test drew near, as the placebo group. Nevertheless, the probiotic group did not suffer the same negative modifications to sleep. On the contrary, the probiotic group:
- Experienced less difficulty falling asleep beneath pre-exam stress
- Maintained and even strengthened their profound, slow-wave sleeping
- Woke up feeling more refreshed and rested compared to the placebo group
These findings suggest that the beneficial bacteria in the probiotic may have helped safeguard the students' sleep during an otherwise stressful period resulting in an exam.
Consequently, if stress impedes your sleep, does this mean you should start taking this specific probiotic? Not so fast. This is one small study - with fewer than 100 individuals in both classes. It'll be important to find these results replicated in other scientific research. Additionally, the microbiome is remarkably complex and varies from one person to the next. The bacteria that is beneficial for a single person, or small group of individuals, might not have exactly the exact effects on someone else.
These are some exceptionally interesting results that point to the possibility of our microbiome influence on how well we rest at night and the prospect of using probiotics and other microbiome-targeting remedies to protect and enhance sleep.
Ways to improve your gut health and sleep
Paying attention to your gut health can decrease your risk for chronic diseases, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It could help protect your brain and your cognitive capabilities and increase your emotional and mental well-being. Additionally, it might help you sleep better. We have got a lot to learn about the individual microbiome. But it's apparent that the microbial ecosystem in our gut has a deep influence on our health.
Focus on whole, minimally processed foods. Your diet has a substantial influence on the well-being of your microbiome. Diets heavy on sugars and highly-processed foods in your daily diet may change the makeup of your intestine microbiome, reducing the abundance of beneficial microorganisms. Limiting these foods and replacing them with whole, unprocessed foods that are nutrient-rich such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, helps restore and protect the beneficial bacteria in your gut.
- Plant-based diet. A diet of whole fruits and veggies is the basis of healthy living and healthy sleep. To give your body a genuine diversity of beneficial bacteria, listen to getting as broad various plant-based foods as possible.
- Take prebiotics. Prebiotics are a power source (think: meals ) for the trillions of little organisms in your gut. High-fiber plant foods are great sources of prebiotics, such as asparagus, apples, artichokes, bananas, and onions, leeks, and garlic. Prebiotics are also available in supplement form. Recent research suggests a prebiotic-rich diet can decrease stress and enhance sleep.
- Eat light before sleeping. It's not great for sleep to go to bed hungry. But eating too heavily near bedtime revs up the digestive tract when your body is naturally wired to provide digestion a rest. By the end of a long day, once you're emotionally and physically exhausted, it can be more difficult to resist the cravings for sugar and processed fats, which may interfere with sleep and the health of your microbiome. If night snacking is a temptation for you, plan to get a choice of sleep and microbiome-friendly choices available.
- Exercise. You have heard me say it before: regular exercise is terrific for sleep. Exercise will help you fall asleep more easily and sleep more soundly through the night. New research shows exercise also may directly benefit your microbiome. Researchers discovered the benefits of exercise on microbiome composition happened independent of diet.
- Go organic. There is research suggesting that pesticides change the microbiome and are bad for the beneficial bacteria we want to have to thrive in our microbiome. Start looking for organic sources of legumes, grains, dairy, and other animal products, too.