As Little As Two Bad Nights Of Sleep Can Alter Your Gut Microbiome

How gut health impacts the quality of sleep, and vice versa.

Woman lying on her bed with the sun on her face looking at a magazine.
Photo by Leah Kelley from Pexels

There’s no denying that gut health is all the rage right now. Hailed as the ‘second brain’, over the past decade or so, science has progressed rapidly in this area and as a result, we’re realising more and more how important our digestive health is for overall sense of wellbeing.

We’re well-versed in the gut-brain connection, the gut-skin connection, and now, it turns out there is a very real gut-sleep connection, too. Recent research has discovered that the amount of sleep you get (and the quality of it) are closely linked to your gut microbiome—which means that maintaining gut health is as important as ever.

Here’s what you need to know.

Sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation has very real ramifications on our health and overall sense of wellness. An adult’s recommended daily dose of sleep is between 7 and 9 hours, and a whopping 35.3% of adults report getting less than 7 hours during a typical 24-hour period. Do you feel as though you get enough sleep? Do you wake up feeling refreshed or do you drag yourself out of bed and try to wrap your head around the day ahead? If you’re the latter, turns out it could be your gut health to blame.

It works both ways

gut health fodmap ibs
Image: iStock

The relationship between sleep and the gut is very much a two-way street. Not only does sleep impact the microbiome, but the health of your microbiome further impacts your stress levels, hormones, mood, neurotransmitters, weight, and even the perception of pain—all of which can directly affect sleep quality.

A few bad nights sleep can alter the gut microbiome

Getting an inadequate amount of sleep can really catch up with the gut—and it happens a lot quicker than you might expect. According to a recent Swedish study that surveyed the sleep habits of healthy adults, it takes just two nights of insufficient sleep to result in negative changes to the gut microbiome.

This source indicates that after just two nights of around four and a half hours of slumber, the numbers of certain beneficial bacterial strains in subjects’ digestive tracts were reduced by almost 50%. To add insult to injury, the study participants became about 20% less resistant to insulin—and their microbiomes began to resemble those of obese individuals.

These alterations in the gut will inherently disrupt your sleep further; making it a vicious cycle and one that can only be rectified by prioritising healthy sleep patterns.

The connection between the gut and circadian rhythm

sleep quality
Image: Unsplash

Researchers have discovered that gut microbes can quickly affect the regulation of your circadian rhythm processes—the body clock that gives you cues as to when you should eat and when to fall asleep and wake up. This can also impact the body’s cortisol levels—the stress hormone that, unsurprisingly, plays a key role in enabling someone to fall asleep and stay asleep. If your cortisol levels are disturbed, your sleep cycle will be too.

Improving the microbiome for sleep

As we know with gut health, a lot of it comes down to diet and keeping stressors on the body to a minimum. Probiotics, prebiotics and fermented foods alongside a plant-based, whole foods diet help to support a healthy microbial environment, while minimising refined sugars, processed and artificial foods and chemicals is integral to establishing and maintaining a healthy gut system. Regular exercise, caffeine avoidance, a relaxing evening ritual and keeping those pesky blue lights from technology out of the bedroom are other factors that will support your gut health, your sleep, and the delicate ways that the two are interlinked.

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