The microbiome–the trillions of tiny microbes that reside in your intestines–plays a crucial role in digestion, but it also helps to regulate hormone production, appetite, digestion, mood, stress responses, and metabolism. Like sleep, the microbiome is regulated by circadian rhythms, according to an article published in the International Review of Neurobiology. But the circadian rhythm isn’t the only connection between the microbiome and sleep. Recent research shows an important, symbiotic relationship between sleep and gut health.
Poor Sleep Affects Your Digestive System–And Vice Versa
As it turns out, the relationship between the microbiome and sleep is a two-way street. The microbiome appears to affect our quality of sleep, and our quality of sleep, in turn, appears to have an effect on the health of the bacterial community in the gut.
A 2016 study of young, healthy men who had regular sleeping and eating patterns found that just two nights of disrupted sleep led to a significant decrease in beneficial gut bacteria. It also caused changes in the microbes that are specifically linked to obesity and type-2 diabetes, and it resulted in significantly decreased insulin sensitivity.
A 2017 study of adults between the ages of 50 and 85 found that there’s a strong connection between quality sleep, cognitive flexibility, and beneficial gut bacteria. The study found that poor sleep causes reduced cognitive flexibility and altered composition of the microbiome. The study concluded that a healthy gut might protect against the impact of poor sleep on cognitive health, and researchers believe that learning more about the microbiome and its relationship to sleep may help us protect the brain against decline and dementia down the road.
Sleep Apnea, High Blood Pressure, and the Microbiome
Research shows that sleep apnea, a condition characterized by interrupted breathing during sleep, negatively affects the microbiome. High blood pressure and sleep apnea often occur together, and a 2017 study suggests that the microbiome plays a significant role in causing high blood pressure in people with sleep apnea. According to the study, disruption of the normal composition of the gut microbiota has been identified in a number of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, including obesity and diabetes, and emerging research has shown that this disruption in the makeup of the microbiome may be directly related to the development of sleep apnea-induced hypertension.
Fragmented Sleep and Metabolic Health
Restless sleep and frequent night-time awakenings keep you from spending an adequate period of time in the restorative stages of sleep, and this can lead to changes in metabolism and eating patterns. These, in turn, increase the risk for obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders. Recent research suggests that poor sleep may have a significant role in the gut microbiome’s effects on metabolic health, largely by triggering inflammation that causes metabolic problems.
The Microbiome, Stress, and Sleep
Stress is a major cause of numerous sleep problems. We know that stress negatively affects the health of the microbiome, and poor gut health can, in turn, worsen the body’s stress response. A recent Japanese study found that a daily serving of a probiotic known as L. casei–a beneficial bacteria that occur naturally in the microbiome–prevented stress from causing negative changes to sleep patterns. The study’s subjects, facing intense exam stress, fell asleep more easily, maintained deep, slow-wave sleep, and woke feeling more rested than the placebo group.
Improve Your Sleep and Your Microbiome
Given the two-way connection between sleep and the microbiome, improving both your sleep and your gut health can have far-reaching benefits to your overall health. Here are some tips for better sleep and better digestive health.
Eat a healthy diet. What you eat directly affects the health of your microbiome. Strive to reduce your intake of sugar, meat, processed foods, and fatty foods. Focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods, including lots of fruits and vegetables.
Choose organic when possible. Research shows that pesticides found in food can reduce the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Go organic whenever possible, especially when you’re buying the Dirty Dozen–the 12 fruits and vegetables that contain the highest levels of pesticides.
Eat lightly at night. Eating too much before bed gets the digestive system excited, which can disrupt your sleep. And if your bedtime snack includes processed foods or sugar, it can interfere with the health of your microbiome and your sleep.
Exercise. Exercise is excellent for promoting quality sleep. It helps you fall asleep more easily, and it helps you stay asleep during the night. Exercise also changes the composition of the microbiome, increasing the numbers of healthy microbes that reduce inflammation in the body.
Take a probiotic. A probiotic boosts the number of beneficial bacteria in your gut to promote a healthier microbiome. Stonehenge Health’s Dynamic Biotics is the ideal probiotic with 16 strains of bacteria and over 50 Billion CFUs, including the stress-busting L. casei mentioned earlier.
Practice good sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene is the collection of practices that promote good sleep. These include going to bed at the same time every night, sleeping in a dark, cool environment, and avoiding screens an hour before bedtime.
A healthy lifestyle, a daily probiotic, and good sleep hygiene can go a long way toward quality sleep and good microbiome health for a happier, healthier you.