There are many different causes for a sleepless night including a warm room, anxiety and stress, or an underlying illness. But scientists are now suggesting that your digestion could play a big role in your sleepless nights too.
Scientists are starting to suspect a link between our guts microbiome — trillions of microbes situated in the intestines — and sleeplessness.
Although unproven, the theory makes sense.
Author of Why We Sleep, Matt Walker, explained “This is an embryonic field right now in the annals of sleep research. We know an enormous amount about the relationship between a lack of sleep and appetite, obesity and weight gain, as well as aspects of insulin resistance and glucose regulation. What we don’t fully understand yet is the role of the microbiome in sleep.”
What is known is that poor sleep leads to weight gain along with negatively affecting how our bodies intake and treat food. This is because sleep deprivation is tied to lower levels of leptin, which is the hormone responsible for making us feel full. When leptin levels are low, we tend to overeat because we simply don’t feel full. Some studies have shown people low in leptin take in an additional 300 calories a day. It’s clear that sleep can affect the gut, but can the reverse be true?
Dr. Michael Breus of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine added, “There is no question in my mind that gut health is linked to sleep health, although we do not have the studies to prove it yet. Scientists investigating the relationship between sleep and the microbiome are finding that the microbial ecosystem may affect sleep and sleep-related physiological functions in a number of different ways: shifting circadian rhythms, altering the body’s sleep-wake cycle, affecting hormones that regulate sleep and wakefulness.”
Until further research is conducted and more conclusive findings are unveiled, Dr. Breus suggests taking probiotics and prebiotics to promote a healthy microbiome by feeding the gut with healthy bacteria.
There are some preliminary studies that suggest prebiotics can significantly impact non-REM and REM sleep by improving these sleep stages.
Another way your digestion affects your sleep is what and when you eat. For example, it is often advised not to consume a large meal to close to bed. This is because your metabolism is slower currently, meaning you burn off less. Also, your body is using energy to digest food when really it should be focusing on sleep.
Christine Hansen, author of Sleep Like a Boss, suggests “My general advice is to eat low-glycemic index foods before bed because they’ll release the energy more slowly. If you do eat high-GI foods, like a dessert or sugar or something refined, pair it with some protein or fiber. For example, if you have white bread, have it with cream cheese and banana or eggs. If you want crackers, go for whole grain. You probably don’t want to eat food before bed that’s difficult to digest — fried food or heavy meats, for example. Go for fish or chicken rather than sitting down for a big steak and try to indulge at lunchtime rather than dinner to give yourself the best chance at sleep.”
Taking care of your gut could be a simple solution to your sleeping problem and could have you enjoying a good night’s rest each evening.