An increasing number of scientists are waking up to the idea of a link between the digestive system and problems with sleep
When we lie awake at night, unable to sleep, we usually blame stress, depression, nervousnes, adrenaline or the memory of something stupid we said during 2003. But what if our intestines were actually the culprit? What if the trillions of microbes sitting in our small intestines- known collectively as the microbiome or microbiota- were actually affecting our mood, digestion, overall health and ability to get a full eight hours’ shut-eye? Scientists are beginning to suspect there is a strong, if as yet unproven, link between gut health- the diversity and wellbeing of bacteria in the belly, small and large bowels- and sleep health.
” This is an embryonic field right now in the annals of sleep research ,” says Matt Walker, the author of Why We Sleep and the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley.” 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 .”
We know that sleep deprivation increases our chances of obesity and affects the way we control food intake. Lack of sleep outcomes in a decrease in leptin, the hormone that constructs us feel full, and a surge in ghrelin, which stops us feeling satisfied with the food we do eat. That means we maintain feeing- sometimes as much as an extra 300 calories a day. Lack of sleep also affects the parts of our brain responsible for impulse control, leaving us with very little chance of feeing healthily and taking care of that gut ecosystem. Poor sleep, then, can certainly affect our gut. The question is, could our intestine affect our sleep?
” Is improving intestine health a possible new sleep therapy? That is one of our least understood but most exciting possibilities ,” says Walker.
Dr Michael Breus, a clinical psychologist and fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, agrees that this is a possibility worth seek.” 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 analyse 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.”
While we wait for the definitive science, Breus indicates taking probiotics( a type of live bacteria) and prebiotics( non-digestible carbohydrates, mainly fibre) to feed the good bacteria in our intestines. The benefits of probiotics for the gut are well documented. A recent study from scientists at the University of Colorado, published in Frontiers of Behavioural Neuroscience, suggests that prebiotics could have a significant effect on the quality of non-REM and REM sleep. This is something insomniac Dr Michael Mosley tested out with some success in a recent BBC documentary– “hes taking” prebiotics for five days and insured improvement in his sleep. The day before the experimentation, Mosley spent 21% of his time in bed awake; by the final day, that was down to 8 %. This is, of course, anecdotal- but nevertheless interesting.
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