How Sleepless Nights Affect Your Gut

It’s becoming common knowledge in scientific circles that our guts, or “second brains,” have a symbiotic relationship with almost every other system in our bodies.

What this means is that the composition of your microbiome is not only influenced by your body’s systems…

But that it influences them as well.

For example, stress can change the population diversity in your gut. However, the bacterial makeup of your gut can also affect the way that your brain releases happy chemicals, and the way that your nervous system releases stress chemicals.

Unsurprisingly, everything in the human body is connected to and affected by everything else.

And since we know that sleep is the necessary process by which our bodies restore and heal themselves… 

It stands to reason that curious researchers want to better understand the relationship between the quality and amount of sleep we’re getting and the function of the gut. 

Here’s what you need to know…

Gut Health is Essential for Healthy Sleep 

You probably already know that your body operates according to its own unique inner clock, or circadian rhythm. It’s what’s responsible for regulating your waking energy and your natural descent into sleep. 

A recent study found that the microbes in your gut also move in a dictated pattern, and this pattern is what influences your body clock. Maintaining a healthy and functional gut is critical in a regulated sleep cycle.

Conversely, when you mess with your circadian rhythm, by working the night shift or changing time zones, the composition of the gut microbiome changes and can cause metabolic issues and distorted communication between the gut and the rest of the body.

Perhaps on an obvious note, if you have digestive issues, you’ve probably found that your sleep is often light or interrupted. And of course, since bad sleep also affects the efficiency of your gut, this vicious cycle can continue uninterrupted unless you take steps to correct it. Taking prebiotics, for example, can help with gut woes and allow you to sleep more deeply. 

Healthy Sleep is Necessary for Positive Bacterial Growth 

Several studies have shown that sleep deprivation is linked with depleted healthy bacteria populations in the gut. What this suggests is that just like sleeping allows the body time to heal itself, it also allows the gut to restore its balance and repopulate healthy bacteria. Without that opportunity, the microbiome is out of whack and can cause a whole host of other problems.

Insufficient sleep can make pre-existing gut inflammation, like that which appears in people with leaky gut, even worse!

Under sleeping, or low quality sleep, is also associated with allergies and weather sensitivities. This is because sleep-deprived people over-produce B cells, which kick your immune system into high gear and make your body extra sensitive to external changes and unfamiliar entities. 

Poor sleep quality has also been signaled as one of the driving factors in metabolic disorders that lead to obesity, diabetes, and more – which all begin in the gut, by the way.

In fact, myriad studies connect high sleep quality, high microbiome diversity, and stronger mental flexibility. 

How to Break the Cycle 

The solution is two-fold: take care of your gut, and take care of your sleep.

Easier said than done, right? 

Try making sure that your bedroom is designed for maximum restfulness. 

Don’t eat too close to bedtime. The reason for that is that when your digestive system is working to break down food, it isn’t at rest, and it will continue to function breaking down your last meal while your body is trying to shut down all its other systems for the night.

If you have a sensitive tummy, make sure that you’re getting prebiotics, like anything in the allium family (onions, garlic, leeks, etc), asparagus, plums, beans, green tea, and pure dark chocolate.

Try exercising in the evenings to make your body weary in a natural way. If that isn’t possible or doesn’t work, consider taking melatonin supplements an hour or so before you’d like to fall asleep.

Above all, make managing your stress a priority, since stress is detrimental to healthy bacterial populations in your microbiome and restful sleep.

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.