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“All disease begins in the gut”

-Hippocrates

It is 2 a.m. and you are awake, tossing and turning in your bed, unable to fall asleep. We tend to believe that it is stress that distracts us from sleep. What we’ve never wondered about, though, is that it could be our GUT that keeps us awake! I’ll explain how your sleep is affected by your gut microflora and I’ll also provide you with some powerful tips on how to regulate your diet, which is key to gut health.

How do sleep disorders affect your gut?

You probably know that sleep deprivation affects your health and disrupts your control of food consumption. Poor sleep decreases the amount of leptin, a hormone that makes us feel full, and skyrockets ghrelin, a hormone responsible for making you hungry [1]. Consequently, you consume more calories than your body needs. Your brain is also affected and is unable to make reasonable food choices.

This means that you are more likely to choose junk food, which affects the smooth and proper functioning of your gut, which, in turn, can cause gastrointestinal diseases such as constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, and indigestion [2]. However, emerging studies indicate that there is a two-way connection between your gut and sleep.

 

The gut’s effect on sleep

According to the research, any disruptions in the gut microbiome can affect sleep by changing normal circadian rhythms and hormones that regulate our Wakefulness [3]. Have you ever thought your gut had such a huge power?

Your intestines play a crucial role in your body’s homeostasis because:

  • Your gut is your second brain [4]. It has 100 million more neurons than your spinal cord and even your nervous system.
  • It can affect your mood. 90% of serotonin, a happiness hormone that also regulates your sleep cycles, is produced in the gut [5]. Serotonin is a building element for melatonin, a good nights sleep hormone.
    Although the brain can also produce melatonin, your gut contains 400 times more of it than a pineal gland in your brain! And melatonin deficiencies are linked to “leaky gut” and gut dysbiosis, both of which impair a good sleep.

 

The amazing life of bacteria in your abdomen and its effect on sleep

Your microbiota is home to millions of bacteria! Your body has 10 times more bacteria cells than human cells [6]. Some are good guys and some are bad. The goal is to keep digestion controlled by the good ones. A healthy diet and lifestyle trigger friendly bugs in your stomach that regulate the production of serotonin, which is a precursor to melatonin. This cycle helps you get sufficient sleep.

In addition, the good bacteria in your gut communicate with your brain through the thick vagus nerve that runs through the brainstem to the abdomen. Our gut sends information to the brain through the neural fibers. If this gut-brain conversation runs smoothly, you sleep like a log [7]!

Our microbiome also has a powerful effect on your mood. As the bacteria in your gut play an important role in serotonin production, any kind of disbalance in the gut could lead to depression and anxiety, which, in turn, can impair your sleep and exacerbate insomnia [8]Similarly, your microbiome is unhealthy, you tend to experience intestinal discomfort, which makes it extremely difficult to fall asleep.

Now that we have detailed the link between your gut and sleep, let’s shift our focus to how we can normalize your gut flora.

 

Improve your nutrition, control your sleep

The gut microbiome is closely intertwined with our circadian rhythms, the 24-hour internal body clock that regulates sleep and wake cycles, hunger and satiety, and hormone balance. Research shows that microbial rhythms can disrupt our circadian rhythms and lead to sleep problems [9]. The rhythms of gut microbes can be affected by your diet, mealtime, and the nutritional composition of your food.

Consequently, the nutrients you consume trigger processes that determine the quality of your sleep.

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A healthy diet and lifestyle trigger friendly bugs in your stomach that regulate the production of serotonin, which is a precursor to melatonin.

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Here are some nutrition tips to improve your gut flora and sleep:

Tip 1. Avoid!

Avoid eating harmful food that has the potential to damage your gut and prevent serotonin and melatonin production. Strive to eat organic and unprocessed foods.

Avoid the following:

  • Agricultural chemicals
  • Processed foods with excessive sugars
  • Antibiotics
  • Chemical food additives and preservatives
  • Chlorinated water

Tip 2. Eat Probiotics!

Probiotics invite good microbes into your flora! Probiotics are essential for building healthy flora to support digestion [10]. They force out bad guys and counter the microbial imbalance. Probiotics can also boost your body’s melatonin supply,  which makes you sleepy in the evening. Go for sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, miso, yogurt, and kefir.

A recent study showed that by introducing bacteria Lactobacillus (found in yogurt) into the diet of mice, their anxiety levels were reduced. Another study showed that by introducing probiotics into the diet of mice, the level of cortisol was decreased, while anxious and depressive behaviors were reduced.

Tip 3. Eat Prebiotics.

They can help your friendly flora flourish. Don’t forget to feed your body good bacteria! Add some raw garlic, raw and cooked onions, dandelion greens, and asparagus to your daily menu.

 

Tip 4. Eat Magnesium.

A powerful anti-stress mineral which leads to:

  • better blood sugar balance
  • improved blood circulation
  • normalization of blood pressure
  • relaxation of tense muscles
  • normalization of microflora [11].

Magnesium is not only critical for sleep optimization, but it is also essential for your health and longevity. If you don’t want to clock out before your time, eat more of green leafy veggies, pumpkin and sesame seeds, and superfoods like spirulina and Brazil nuts.

Summing up…

It’s time to stop waking up at night, thinking about the meaning of life or how much work is waiting for you at the office. The night is the best time to enjoy a sufficient 8-8.5 hour sleep that will refill your body with energy and prepare your brain for the morning’s challenges! Your gut will be thankful if you nurture and nourish your microbiome. It will pay off with restful and rejuvenating sleep!

 

References

[1] Potter, Gregory D. M. et al. “Circadian Rhythm and Sleep Disruption: Causes, Metabolic Consequences, and Countermeasures.” Endocrine Reviews 37.6 (2016): 584–608. PMC. Web. 12 Apr. 2018.

[2] Sayyed Saeid Khayyatzadeh, Seyyed Mohammad Reza Kazemi‐Bajestani, Seyed Jamal Mirmousavi, etc.  Dietary behaviors in relation to prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome in adolescent girls. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 33, 2, (404-410), (2018).

[3] Xue Liang, Garret A. FitzGerald, etc. “Timing the Microbes: The Circadian Rhythm of the Gut Microbiome.Journal of Biological Rhythms. Vol 32, Issue 6, pp. 505 – 515.

[4]  Ochoa-Repáraz, Javier, and Lloyd H. Kasper. “The Second Brain: Is the Gut Microbiota a Link Between Obesity and Central Nervous System Disorders?” Current obesity reports 5.1 (2016): 51–64. PMC. Web. 12 Apr. 2018.

[5] Paddock, Catherine. “Gut microbes important for serotonin production.” Medical News. (April 21, 2015). 

[6] Conlon, Michael A., and Anthony R. Bird. “The Impact of Diet and Lifestyle on Gut Microbiota and Human Health.” Nutrients 7, no. 1 (December 24, 2014): 17–44.

[7] Javier A. Bravo, Paul Forsythe, etc, “Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve.” PNAS September 20, 2011. 108 (38) 16050-16055.

[8] Nadia Aurora, Lindsey Herrera, Manisha Bhatia, Emily Wilen, and Sarah Wakefield. “Gut microbiota’s effect on mental health: The gut-brain axis.” School of Medicine, Health Sciences Center.

[9] Potter, Gregory D. M. et al. “Circadian Rhythm and Sleep Disruption: Causes, Metabolic Consequences, and Countermeasures.” Endocrine Reviews 37.6 (2016): 584–608. PMC. Web. 13 Apr. 2018.

[10] Thompson Robert S., Roller Rachel, Mika Agnieszka, etc. “Dietary Prebiotics and Bioactive Milk Fractions Improve NREM Sleep, Enhance REM Sleep Rebound and Attenuate the Stress-Induced Decrease in Diurnal Temperature and Gut Microbial Alpha Diversity.” Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 2017, DOI=10.3389/fnbeh.2016.00240.

[11] Winther, G., Pyndt Jørgensen, B., Elfving, B., Nielsen, D., Kihl, P., Lund, S., . . . Wegener, G. (2015). Dietary magnesium deficiency alters gut microbiota and leads to depressive-like behavior. Acta Neuropsychiatrica, 27(3), 168-176. doi:10.1017/neu.2015.7