It surprises many people to learn that there is a close relationship between sleep and your gut health. Your gut has a major impact on the quality of your sleep, leaving you feeling dazed and exhausted. Likewise, when you’re sleepy, your gut can start to feel out of sorts. It can turn into a cycle that perpetuates itself in a cycle of feeling sluggish if you don’t understand it. If you’re looking to the answer to the big question of sleep quality, look to the tiny microbiome in your gut for the answers.
The human body contains a staggering 100 trillion microbes. These include fungi, viruses, and bacteria that live inside your body and are attached to your skin. These microbes live in colonies called microbiomes. These are tiny and complex ecosystems inside your body. The largest microbiome exists inside your large intestine, the epicenter of your gut.
Like all ecosystems, this gut-dwelling microbiome experiences a constant ebb and flow of life. Microbes generate as others die and decay. Much of this activity spikes while you sleep. When you’re not sleeping well, this can disrupt this complicated circle of life that’s going on in your gut and end up with digestive pain, a sluggish gut, or irritable bowels. Starting to see the connection? Read on to learn more about the connection between the microbiome and sleep.
The Brain-Gut Connection
Your brain and gut are connected by the vagus nerve, which carries communication back and forth between your brain and your gut. Not only does your gut receive information from your brain, but it also sends data back to the brain. So, when your brain senses fear or stress, it can dampen that line of communication via the vagus nerve. The result can cause digestive issues. This is why you get that feeling of your stomach being in knots when you’re facing a fearful situation. Knowing about the vagus nerve helps you because it’s considered a key factor in the relationship between the brain and your gut called “the gut-brain axis.”
So, when your gut-brain axis has, well, shifted off its axis so to speak, you can experience negative impacts in your sleep patterns. Some of the negative consequences you could see are as follows:
- Disturbed Circadian Rhythm: Your Circadian Rhythm is a built-in clock that has an influence in your sleep pattern. Your gut’s microbiome follows a pattern similar to your Circadian Rhythm. However, both of these rhythms can interrupt or influence the other. Moreover, your microbiome’s rhythm can be affected by a high-fat, high-calorie diet. This is widely thought to be the reason that you experience poor sleep quality when you’ve consumed a heavy meal shortly before bed.
- Hormonal Imbalances: A disruption in the gut’s microbiome can also stunt the production of essential sleep hormones. Hormones such as dopamine, serotonin, melatonin, and cortisol all aid your body in achieving a good night’s sleep. When the microbiome are out of sorts, they can interfere with your body’s sleep responses.
- Increased Feelings of Pain: Healthy gut microbiome are linked to the human body’s perception of pain. When the gut sends input to the brain that it senses pain, you will feel more sensitivity to pain. As anyone who has ever tried to fall asleep with an injury knows, it’s very difficult to fall asleep when you’re feeling twangs of pain.
Nourishment for Better Gut Health
People are startled to learn that the way to a good night sleep isn’t a sleeping pill. It’s nourishment for better gut health. Restoring the balance of your microbiome will improve your sleep.
Foods that are super healthy for the gut are those high in fiber, probiotics, and prebiotics. Here are some of the foods that will improve your gut health and help you get back to sleeping well.
The human body requires about 40 grams of fiber each day. However, only 3% of Americans are getting that necessary fiber intake. Foods rich in soluble fiber will help to nourish the good bacteria in your gut so it can keep things stable. Insoluble fiber-rich foods also play an important role as they help to cleanse the environment.
Some of the gut-healthiest fibers you can consume are as follows:
- Whole grains
- Greens (kale, collard, mustard)
Remaining vigilant about your fiber intake and getting those 40 grams daily isn’t that difficult. Make a concerted effort to amp up your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables (not canned!) and you’ll be on the right path.
You may have seen commercials on the television touting the benefits of probiotics in yogurt, but you didn’t know quite what that meant. Probiotics are foods that contain live “good bacteria.” These bacteria develop naturally during the fermentation process. Probiotics help to feed the live, healthy bacteria so that they can thrive in your gut and fight inflammation and illness.
The following are some of the foods you can eat to gain benefit from probiotics:
- Yogurt (especially those with a higher number of probiotics—check the label)
- Miso soup
- Fresh pickles (look for the pickles which are in the refrigerated food or dairy section of your local supermarket, not those canned for long shelf life)
These foods will help keep the healthy bacteria in your gut flourishing. For those who just can’t deal with fermented foods, check out your pharmacy for probiotic tablets.
You probably thought that your sleeplessness was a brain-related problem. After all, we all think of the brain as our body’s shot-caller. And, it is. But as it turns out, the brain and the gut are more closely related than we had ever imagined. Therefore, if you have tried to restore your sleep to no avail, take that next step. Look to restoring your gut health in order to get that shut-eye that you so desperately need.