Are you aware of the link between lack of sleep and gut health? We’re all guilty of putting sleep to one side when other things get in the way and we’ve all suffered the side effects. As a result, symptoms can include tiredness, low energy, and irritability as well as food cravings (think munchies, constantly) and an inability to control your emotions. Due to prolonged periods of sleep deprivation, we can quite quickly progress from tired and irritable to fatigued and burnt out.
Before we look at the relationship between gut health and sleep in detail, it’s important to understand what exactly the gut microbiome is.
What is the gut microbiome?
Over the past decade, the fascination and research surrounding the gut microbiome have skyrocketed, generating a staggering 1-2.2 million search results on the internet. It turns out that our gut is more than just a digestive organ; it’s considered our second brain, capable of influencing our brain function and vice versa.
Inside our gastrointestinal tract, trillions of microbes reside, including bacteria, archaea, fungi, and viruses, which are collectively known as microbiota. Fascinatingly, no two individuals have the exact same microbiomes, and in a “healthy person”, these microorganisms coexist harmoniously. While research on the effects of the gut microbiome is still relatively new, studies have revealed its profound influence on our neural, hormonal, and immune responses. It has been found that factors such as mode of infant delivery, ageing, diet, geography, and stress significantly shape the composition of our gut microbiome. Learn more about the world of good and bad gut bacteria and their impact.
It’s important to recognise that the gut microbiome plays a vital role in our overall health, and an imbalance, known as gut dysbiosis, has been closely linked to various diseases. Additionally, our gut microbiome contributes to the production of key neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and glutamine, all of which have significant implications for mood, sleep, digestion, and more.
The link between gut health and sleep
Lack of sleep and gut health are closely linked. Late night hunger pangs and cravings for fatty and sugary foods due to sleep deprivation can lower your levels of leptin (leptin inhibits your hunger) and increase your levels of ghrelin (ghrelin is often called the ‘hunger hormone’). At the same time, this can ramp up production of cortisol (aka the ‘stress hormone’, which increases your appetite), so it’ll come as little surprise that gut health and sleep are intrinsically linked.
Through research, it’s come to light that the microbiome can affect our quality of sleep by hindering the sleep-wake cycle, circadian rhythm and hormones that regulate sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep, it affects your gut and vice versa – both bad gut health and sleep can go hand in hand, which highlights the importance of taking care of both.
Let’s take a look at the link between sleep disorders, fragmentation, overall lack of sleep and gut health more closely:
Sleep deprivation and sleep fragmentation vs gut microbiome
Scientists have been investigating the effects of sleep loss and disruption on our gut microbiota. Recent studies have found that even short-term sleep loss can indirectly influence the composition of our microbiota, specifically by altering the ratio between Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes (a measure of gut dysbiosis).
Similar results have been observed in mice, where sleep fragmentation led to changes in gut microbiota composition, increased food intake, and disruption of metabolic balance, potentially leading to inflammation and insulin resistance. What’s more, research has shown that a 5-day period of sleep interruption in mice can have lasting effects on the microbiome and metabolome, including reduced levels of beneficial bacteria and altered metabolic functions.
In another recent study, it was found that people who enjoyed high-quality sleep had a greater diversity and richness of gut microbiota, with certain bacterial strains playing a key role. It seems that gut bacteria and sleep are incredibly closely linked. And here’s an interesting fact: having a gut microbiome rich in specific bacteria was linked to better cognitive performance. It turns out that disrupted sleep isn’t just a short-term annoyance; it can also be associated with long-term health risks like cardiovascular disease.
Sleep disorders vs gut microbiome
There have also been several studies that have explored the link between gut microbiota composition and sleep disorders in both animals and humans – another way that gut health and sleep can be closely intertwined. For example, a recent review highlighted how an imbalance in gut bacteria could be linked to obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS). OSAS is a common respiratory sleep disorder characterised by intermittent hypoxia (lack of oxygen) and fragmented sleep. These conditions can cause disruptions in the intestinal barrier and alter the composition of the microbiota.
In one study, mice fed a high-fat diet and exposed to simulate OSAS showed changes in their gut microbiome, including an increase in species known to influence inflammation. In another study involving children, researchers found significant differences in the microbial structure between snorers and non-snorers. Snorers had lower microbial diversity and richness, and a higher abundance of certain bacterial families. These findings suggest that snoring may impact the gut microbiota and have long-term consequences.
Another study highlighted gut microbial imbalances in patients with varying degrees of OSAS severity. The events of intermittent hypoxia and sleep fragmentation in these patients were associated with dysbiosis, increased pathogen levels, reduced levels of beneficial bacteria, and inflammatory responses that could contribute to metabolic health issues.
While more research is needed to fully understand the role of the microbiome, our gut bacteria and sleep, it’s promising to explore strategies like adjusting our diet and incorporating prebiotics and probiotics to improve sleep quality.
The science that connects gut health and sleep
We rely heavily on repetition and consistency in our day-to-day lives for our sleep. It’s the reason why despite a late Friday night and no morning alarm, you still wake up at the same time on Saturday morning, and the same reason why we suffer from jet lag when we go on holiday. This is all dictated by our Circadian rhythm – a natural, internal process referred to as our internal clock that regulates our sleep-wake cycle.
Factors such as late nights, screen time before bed, less exercise, and lack of time outdoors can all lead to a deterioration in the quality of deep (REM) sleep. This essential phase helps to enhance our cognitive function, gut health, immune system, and more. That’s why lack of sleep and gut health changes are often closely linked. So how can you help yourself to get a better night’s rest to benefit both your gut health and sleep?
9 ways to get a better night’s sleep
Look after your gut health and sleep by following these top tips for getting a better night’s sleep:
1. Repetition, repetition, repetition – go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time, on both weekdays and weekends if possible. Your body will thank you for it.
2. Quantity of sleep – aim for 8 hours sleep. While different people require different amounts of sleep, 8 hours is recommended to ensure you are reaping the rewards of a well-rested body.
3. Look after your gut – gut bacteria and sleep are closely linked, as the bacteria in our gut can influence our sleep patterns by determining the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. This is unsurprising given what we already know about the gut-brain axis, as well as the connection between cognitive function and sleep. Make sure you’re getting good levels of prebiotics, either through the foods you eat or by including our aguulp for gut supplements in your morning routine. Try them and see if you notice a difference to both your gut health and sleep.
4. Watch your alcohol intake – the relationship between alcohol and sleep is often misunderstood. Many of us rely on alcohol to wind down after a hard day’s work, and it’s true that alcohol can help our bodies prepare for sleep. What’s less understood (or wilfully ignored) is the impact alcohol has after sleep is initiated. While it can help induce sleep, it’s a powerful suppressor of REM – the dream state of sleep. What this means is your sleep patterns will be shallower and disrupted.
5. Work-life balance – as much as there may be little else going on at the moment, it’s still important to switch off and drag yourself away from your screen. Try (if possible) to avoid working from your bedroom. This prevents your body from associating the place you sleep with work.
6. Get some exercise – consistent movement and daily exercise helps de-stress our bodies and will prepare you for a better night’s sleep. Exercise doesn’t have to mean 45 minutes of near hell that further contributes to stress – a lengthy slow paced walk in daylight is a great way to start your day.
7. Exposure to natural sunlight – open your curtains when you wake up to help reduce melatonin and therefore brain fog in the morning. Try to take breaks throughout the day to get yourself outside and exposed to natural light. This helps regulate your Circadian rhythm.
8. Avoid caffeine – 6 hours after you consume caffeine, half of it will still be in your body. Keep that in mind when you go to make yourself a coffee at 4pm – it’s like having half a cup of coffee just before bed at 10pm.
9. Body temperature – your body needs to drop its core temperature by around 2 degrees Fahrenheit to initiate sleep and keep you asleep. This next suggestion might sound like a contradiction, but try having a warm shower before bed (trust us!). This will bring your blood closer to the surface of your body, cooling your blood and therefore reducing your core temperature.
What foods help you sleep?
Now that you know how gut health and sleep are linked, what are the best foods for sleep? Foods for good sleep include protein, nuts, and kiwi fruit – let’s take a look at the top food tips for ensuring a good night’s sleep:
Have a balanced evening meal
Alongside making sure you’re eating the right foods for good sleep, it’s important to make sure your evening meal is as balanced as possible, containing carbohydrates, protein, vegetables, and healthy fats. All of these components in a balanced meal will lower its GI (glycaemic index), which means a slower release of energy, promoting restfulness, potentially supporting both your gut health and sleep.
Consume protein in the evening
Including a protein source in your evening meal or snacks can also be beneficial, as protein contains the amino acid Tryptophan. This amino acid is a precursor to the sleep-regulating hormone serotonin, which plays an important role in the link between diet and sleep. High tryptophan foods include chicken, turkey, red meat, pork, fish, tofu, beans, nuts, seeds, and eggs.
Eat kiwi fruit
Eat your kiwis to benefit both your gut health and sleep. Numerous studies have revealed that kiwi fruit contains medicinally useful compounds such as rich antioxidants and serotonin, which could be beneficial in promoting sleep. These fibre-rich green goodies are also great for gut health, with a recent study revealing they assisted with increasing stool frequency.
Avoid caffeine at night
Avoid caffeinated beverages close to bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulant, which can mean it keeps you awake! To make sure your sleep isn’t disturbed drink decaffeinated beverages in the afternoon.
Eat more nuts
Include a portion of nuts in your daily diet to benefit both your gut health and sleep too. Magnesium, zinc, and selenium have all been linked to promoting sleep, with nuts containing a combination of these, including boosting your melatonin levels after eating them.
Try to get into the habit of eating a small handful of nuts in the evening, switching between different types of nuts like Brazil nuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts, walnuts, almonds, and cashews. These all contain varying ratios of these minerals that are linked to promoting sleep. Nuts are also rich in fibre and promote gut health.
Get a better night’s rest with aguulp
Taking a sleep supplement could also help you to get a better night’s rest. Our aguulp for sleep formula is packed full of soothing plant extracts like chamomile and lemon balm to help you find better sleep. It also contains pistachios and the amino acid L-Tryptohan that we’ve discussed above!
If it’s both gut health and sleep you need a hand with, check out our gut health supplements too:
- aguulp for gut: our premium gut supplement is a liquid prebiotic enriched with a combination of soluble fibres, essential vitamins, and vital nutrients. It is carefully formulated to support the maintenance of good gut bacteria, promoting a healthy and balanced gut microbiome.
- aguulp Gut Probiotic: our powerful gut probiotic supplement with 50 billion friendly bacteria is designed to reintroduce friendly live bacteria in probiotic format with the aim of repopulating and rebalancing your gut microbiome.
Shop our full collection of liquid health supplements today.
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