The Ugly Truth About Sleep Deprivation and Your Gut Health
Getting your zzz’s isn’t always easy! Maybe it’s a child that needs comforting after a nightmare, or an impending presentation at work—or perhaps it’s just to clean up the kitchen at midnight so you don’t have to deal with the mess in the morning. Whatever the reason, when juggling lots of responsibilities (as we all do!), sleep often gets moved to the back burner. Even if you’re under the covers at a reasonable hour, sometimes it’s tough to let go of the day’s adventures and fall into dreamland.
When you don’t get a good, restful night’s sleep though, you pay for it. Trying to get through the next day can be like something out of a horror movie—everything feels jagged, overwhelming, and a bit surreal. But trudging through life like a caffeine-seeking zombie isn’t even the scariest part of the problem.
Ongoing sleep deprivation interferes with proper gut balance, which compromises the immune system and makes the body more vulnerable to a number of health challenges—ranging from low energy and poor moods, to issues with your complexion, weight, and frequently feeling “under the weather.”
Just a Few Bad Nights Can Alter the Gut
Not getting enough sleep catches up to the gut a lot sooner than you might expect. A recent Swedish study involving young, healthy weight adults revealed that as little as two consecutive nights of insufficient sleep resulted in detrimental changes to the microbiome. After two nights of just four and a half hours of slumber, the numbers of certain beneficial bacterial strains in subjects’ digestive tracts were reduced by almost 50%. And to make things worse, the study participants became about 20% less resistant to insulin—and their microbiomes began to resemble those of obese individuals.1
So if you’re missing out on sleep at night, you may be wondering if you can compensate by just catching some shut-eye whenever the opportunity arises. Unfortunately, while short naps can actually be very healthy, they’re not effective as long-term substitutes for a regular sleep routine.
That’s because your entire body—including your microbiome—is designed for predictable cycles of sleep, wakefulness, and eating. Disrupting that rhythm negatively impacts both the regular oscillations and composition of the microbiome.2,3 This is a particular problem for rotating shift workers and frequent flyers, whose microbial health often suffers from repeated sleep cycle disturbances, even with sufficient numbers of sleep hours.
If you’re one of those people who falls asleep as soon as their head hits the pillow, and doesn’t get up for eight hours or more, this doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. That’s because you may not actually be getting the amount and quality of sleep you think you are. Many people (particularly older adults and those carrying extra weight) experience numerous, brief periods of airway obstruction throughout the night when the soft tissue at the back of the throat relaxes during sleep. They’ll typically wake momentarily to catch their breath, and then fall back to sleep before realizing they’ve ever awakened. This type of sleep disruption, which can occur as often as hundreds of times per night, is associated with negative changes to the diversity and composition of the gut microbiome—and can also lead to certain cardiovascular issues and other health challenges.4,5
The Sleep-Gut Connection Works Both Ways
It turns out that the relationship between sleep and the gut is a two-way street. Not only does sleep impact the microbiome, the composition of the microbiome also plays a role in mood, stress levels, hormones, neurotransmitters, weight management, and even the perception of pain—all of which affect sleep quality.6, 7, 8, 9
So if you’ve been having trouble sleeping, embracing a gut-healthy lifestyle can help:
• Supplementing with a high quality, time-released probiotic like PRO-15 ensures that a wide variety of friendly flora become part of your microbial community.
• Favoring whole plant foods (preferably organic) with little or no processing, probiotic cultured and fermented dishes, and prebiotic choices such as artichokes, asparagus, and apples supports a healthy microbial environment. Because it’s sometime difficult to get enough prebiotics from diet alone, you may also want to sprinkle some organic prebiotic powder on your oatmeal or into your favorite smoothies and soft foods to help ensure your probiotic friends are getting the nutrition they need.
• Refined sugar, processed foods, artificial additives, GMOs, preservatives, and pesticides are harmful to beneficial microbes—so it’s best to avoid these ingredients when you can.
• Regular exercise improves gut health, so jump into a fun routine that gets you moving, like kettlebells, martial arts, barre, or swimming.
• Antibiotics and certain other prescription and over the counter medications kill good bacteria along with unwanted strains, so it’s best to only take these medicines when they’re truly needed.
More Simple Ways to Encourage Healthy Sleep
In addition to nurturing your gut, these simple tips will make it easier to fall and stay asleep:
• Try to stick to a regular bedtime that leaves plenty of time to get the perfect amount of sleep for your unique body.
• Since the blue light emitted from computers, cell phones, and televisions signals the brain to be alert, it’s best to turn off all screens about two hours before bedtime. You can also use a blue light filter during the night so that even if you check your phone, your melatonin levels won’t be interrupted.
• A relaxing evening ritual encourages your body and mind to wind down and sleep. This might include reading something relaxing, listening to calming music, knitting, or taking a hot bath with a few drops of lavender oil by candlelight.
• Limit your caffeine intake after lunch. Opt for a relaxing cup of chamomile or other herbal tea instead.
• Keeping your room dark and cool improves sleep quality, so you may want to purchase room-darkening shades, cover light-up clocks/appliances, and turn down the thermostat.
• Not turning on any lights if you wake during the night makes it easier to fall back asleep.
While the occasional sleepless night is unavoidable, a little gut TLC and some healthy sleep habits should help you keep your nightly dates with the Sandman. And the fact that you’re supporting your microbial health in the process will help you rest even easier!
1. Benedict, C., Vogel, H., Jonas, W., Woting, A., Blaut, M., Schürmann, A., & Cedernaes, J. (2016). Gut microbiota and glucometabolic alterations in response to recurrent partial sleep deprivation in normal-weight young individuals. Molecular Metabolism, 5(12), 1175-1186. doi:10.1016/j.molmet.2016.10.003
2. Voigt, R. M., Forsyth, C. B., Green, S. J., Mutlu, E., Engen, P., Vitaterna, M. H., … Keshavarzian, A. (2014). Circadian Disorganization Alters Intestinal Microbiota. PLoS ONE, 9(5), e97500. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0097500
3. Thaiss, C., Zeevi, D., Levy, M., Zilberman-Schapira, G., Suez, J., Tengeler, A., … Elinav, E. (2014). Transkingdom Control of Microbiota Diurnal Oscillations Promotes Metabolic Homeostasis. Cell, 159(3), 514-529. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2014.09.048
4. Moreno-Indias, I., Torres, M., Montserrat, J. M., Sanchez-Alcoholado, L., Cardona, F., Tinahones, F. J., … Farré, R. (2014). Intermittent hypoxia alters gut microbiota diversity in a mouse model of sleep apnoea. European Respiratory Journal, 45(4), 1055-1065. doi:10.1183/09031936.00184314
5. Durgan, D. J. (2017). Obstructive Sleep Apnea-Induced Hypertension: Role of the Gut Microbiota. Current Hypertension Reports, 19(4). doi:10.1007/s11906-017-0732-3
6. Foster, J. A., & McVey Neufeld, K. (2013). Gut–brain axis: how the microbiome influences anxiety and depression. Trends in Neurosciences, 36(5), 305-312. doi:10.1016/j.tins.2013.01.005
7. Konturek, P. C., Brzozowski, T., & Konturek, S. J. (2011). Stress and the gut: pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 62(6), 591-599.
8. Carpenter, S. (2012). That gut feeling. PsycEXTRA Dataset, 43(8), 50. doi:10.1037/e609662012-015
9. Chichlowski, M., & Rudolph, C. (2015). Visceral Pain and Gastrointestinal Microbiome. Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, 21(2), 172-181. doi:10.5056/jnm15025
Roberta Pescow is a writer at Hyperbiotics and proud mom of two amazing and unique young men. Natural wellness is a subject she’s passionate about, so she loves sharing information that helps others discover all the ways probiotics support glowing health and well-being. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.