How a lack of sleep impacts gut health and how to fix it
Sleep and gut health are inextricably intertwined: poor sleep means poor gut health, and vice versa. It’s time we treat our health holistically and learn about the strong connection between sleep and gut health.
The link is more profound than many people realise, and can be strengthened to the benefit of both easily and naturally—with a little guidance.
Sleep & Gut Health: The Connection
1. Poor Sleep Decreases Beneficial Bacteria
Preliminary research is showing us some pretty surprising facts: when you sleep badly, this affects the number of beneficial bacteria in your microbiome.
Except these facts aren’t surprising at all, particularly for those of us who embrace "whole food" medicine.
What may be surprising, however, is how quickly poor sleep affects the vitality of our microbiome. So to begin with, if you struggle to get a good nights sleep, it's important to be conscious of natural ways you can turn this around.
2. Poor Sleep Affects Our Internal Clock
Our microbiome is powerful; probably more powerful than you realise. Our microbiome refers to the bacterial balance in your gut and can actually help control your body’s clock.
It helps to determine when we sleep and wake, not to mention a number of other important bodily functions.
The bacteria in your gut follows a rhythm throughout the day and night, which then affects the internal timing of all your other organs.
What’s even more significant is that these rhythms affect how well the gut bacteria work.
Stress, Shift work, jet lag, emotional trauma and radical changes in sleep schedule can all affect the circadian rhythm of your gut, which can lead to metabolic issues and other ailments and health conditions that stem from poor gut health.
3. Gut Health Could Be Linked with Depression
If you’ve ever struggled with depression or anxiety, it could be tied to your gut health.
The connection between depression and gut health is clear: people with depression and people with sleep issues both have very distinctive microbiomes.
We know that sleep generally helps with depression, so it stands to reason that sleep could also help improve gut health and vice versa, and even more importantly, improving gut health may help with depression.
For many people, this tandem treatment of sleep and gut health could be a natural, pill-free way to help with mood disorders and depression while improving your overall physical health at the same time.
4. Gut Health and Sleep Linked to Digestive Diseases
Another way in which gut health and sleep are connected is through digestive disorders, like Crohns, Colitis, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
These disorders can be incredibly difficult to live with and can certainly cause sleep issues as the pain and discomfort caused by them don’t just affect you during the day.
The conditions can be aggravated by the foods you eat, especially if you eat lots of animal products, processed foods, not enough plant fibres and don't drink enough water.
You can help manage the issues and your overall gut health by eating a cleaner diet and by consuming as many whole and plant-based foods as possible.
By controlling the symptoms of these disorders, you can improve your sleep quality and duration significantly, which then in turn benefits your gut health.
5. Gut Health and Sleep Hormones
Something we often forget—or simply don’t know—is that the gut actually produces many of the sleep-inducing hormones we need for restful, lengthy sleep like dopamine, serotonin, and melatonin.
When the microbiome is disrupted and off-balance, the production of these sleep hormones becomes affected.
But when the gut is healthy and performing optimally, these sleep hormones are likely being produced more regularly, which can improve our sleep.
This is another cycle that’s hard to break, but when you realise every aspect of your health is connected, it’s worth the effort. Taking a holistic approach to your health can lead to more reliable sleep, better quality sleep, and less stress over insomnia.
6. Poor Sleep Affects Impulse Control and Gut Health
Last but definitely not least, there’s strong a connection between sleep and the way we eat, which undeniably affects gut health.
Poor sleep or sleep deprivation makes it harder for us to control impulses, especially when it comes to food. It leads to us making poor food choices and giving into sugar or refined carb cravings, which means we stop eating the healthy food that supports gut health.
Not only do we need to eat probiotic food (like tempeh, sauerkraut, miso soup) to populate our microbiome with good bacteria, but we also need to regularly eat prebiotic food (onions, garlic, leeks, bananas), which are the food that feeds the bacteria in our gut.
While one night of poor sleep probably won’t make a huge difference in your microbiome or your impulse control, regular sleep issues will start to affect both of these long-term, which could seriously impact not only your weight, but your overall health.
Learn more in 6 Fermented Foods for a Healthy Gut.
Tips to Improve Gut Health and Sleep Quality
- Eat more plant foods in your diet
- Avoid processed, packaged and refined sugars and grains
- Avoid snacking before bedtime, especially on food with sugar
- Eat fermented foods every day
- Drink more water (at least 2 litres per day)
- Make lunch, not dinner, your biggest meal of the day
- Delay breakfast until mid morning (gives your digestive system to get through it's natural elimination cycle without disruption)
- Avoid foods that are difficult to digest at dinner or later
- Go to bed and wake up around the same time each day
- Use Bentonite Clay to expel toxins from the digestive system
- Limit caffeine consumption (especially after mid day)
- De-stress before bed with a relaxing routine (think warm bath, reading, candles, essential oils)
Learn more in 6 Essential Oils to Support Gut Health.
These tips work both to improve your sleep cycle and quality, but also to improve the composition of your microbiome to ensure it’s functioning optimally.
Our microbiome is filled with millions of bacteria that does so much more than simply digest food or process waste: they help protect us from virus, they help improve symptoms of digestive diseases, and now we’re realising that they also help improve our sleep.
Sleep health is critical; after all, it helps us make better decisions, think better, and reset our minds and bodies after a long day.
Many of us tend to blame poor sleep on stress or our sleep environment, but the true cause could be right in front of us. The research is slow to catch up, but it’s clear that the connection between sleep and gut health is strong enough to affect our moods, sleep quality, digestion and overall health.
So, how do we fix the connection between sleep and gut health? Take care of yourself. Eat more prebiotic and probiotics every single day, cultivate a reliable sleep routine, and eat a better diet. Take care of one aspect of your health, and it will have a trickle down effect that will benefit even more.
Tolman Self Care.