What is the connection between sleep and gut health?
Our bodies work in weird and wonderful ways!
It might seem strange, but sometimes, things that affect one part of your body can also have an impact on a totally different part too. One such relationship is now thought to exist between gut health and sleep.
Your gut can’t think and feel in the traditional sense of the words, but it can communicate with the part of your body that does – your brain, which can in turn influence everything from your mood to your appetite, your stress levels and your sleep. It makes sense then, that an unhappy gut could communicate its unhappiness to the brain and therefore affect sleep.
The gut and the brain – an interesting relationship
Let’s look a little deeper at the link between your gut and your brain. Your brain is essentially your body’s command centre, telling it what to do and letting each system know how to work. According to Dr Emeran Mayer though, a professor of medicine and physiology and the author of The Mind-Gut Connection, there’s evidence that the gut and the brain is particularly strong and complex. This evidence is based on the signalling mechanisms that the gut’s microorganisms seem to have, which allow them to communicate with your brain directly in a way that affects things such as sleep. Studies have also shown that the composition of the microbiome fluctuates at different times, which plays a part in how your sleep genes are programmed1 and that the gut microbiome can actually change if a person’s sleep is disturbed.
How to make your brain love your gut
Research has shown that your brain will send signals to promote better sleep if you have greater diversity in the types of gut bacteria you have.2 It’s not quite as simple as that of course, as knowing we need greater diversity of gut bacteria and getting it are two very different things. There are things we can do to encourage these different strains of bacteria to populate themselves though! Taking a probiotics supplement has been indicated in numerous studies to assist with the population of different strains of friendly bacteria3 and following a healthy diet can also help. Regularly eating natural foods like kefir, kimchee and sauerkraut can be beneficial to growing your gut bacteria as they all have a different combination of beneficial microbes.
How sleep affects your gut health
It’s not just about how gut health affects your quality of sleep. It’s also about how your quality of sleep affects your gut health. Lack of sleep can lead to an increase in stress, which can cause issues with intestinal permeability – known as leaky gut. This is when food and toxins can pass through the intestine into your bloodstream causing issues ranging from bloating and inflammation to stomach pains and changes in the gut microbiome.4
Lack of sleep can also affect our ability to make good dietary choices, as the hormones that control hunger are not as balanced when you are not well rested. This can lead to an increased appetite that often makes you reach for carbs and sugars for a quick energy boost. Finally, choosing when you eat can also affect your gut microbiome5 . Late-night eating too close to bedtime can make it difficult for your body to focus on sleep and recuperation as its busy thinking about digestion instead.
As the gut and the brain are connected, the gut and sleep are therefore connected, so it’s important that you look after both to keep the other one happy. Focus on getting a good night’s sleep to ensure you maintain a healthy gut, and your gut will repay you by making it easier for you to sleep well in the first place.