By now, you’ve probably heard that your gut microbes affect more than just your digestion. The community of good and bad bacteria, fungi, and viruses in your gut have a serious effect on your mood, your skin, your immune system, and more. Gut supplements like probiotics have exploded in popularity, and people started making their great-grandmothers’ home-fermented foods again for the probiotic benefits. Health-conscious people are paying attention to the gut as the foundation for whole-body wellness.
STUDY: YOUR GUT BACTERIA ARE THE BOSS OF YOUR SLEEP
Researchers recently found that your gut microbiome, the ecosystem of microbes in your gut, impacts your sleep quality.
The study has two key takeaways. First, the diversity of microbes in your gut are associated with interleukin-6, which is a protein that previous studies have shown has a substantial influence on sleep quality.
Second, the study identified specific strains that can positively and negatively affect sleep. Participants with more strains of Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes had a tendency to sleep better, and participants with significant numbers of Lachnospiraceae, Corynebacterium, and Blautia tended to have less sleep efficiency and more sleep disturbances.
Then, we have a chicken-and-egg dilemma. It is known that poor sleep disturbs the balance of your gut microbiome, too. So, if you have a stretch of time where you didn’t sleep well, you probably ended up with an imbalanced gut, which … you guessed it … prevents you from sleeping well.
IS YOUR GUT THE CONNECTION BETWEEN SLEEP AND MOOD, IMMUNITY, COGNITION, AND MORE?
At one time or another, you’ve probably experienced the effects of poor sleep. You don’t think as clearly, you’re cranky, you’re distractible, and you were more susceptible to colds.
Since sleep affects your gut and your gut impacts the way your whole body works, it’s entirely possible that your gut is the main line of communication between your sleep quality and the good and bad effects of how well you slept.
More research is needed, but we do know that communication between your gut and your brain and body is a two-way street. We know enough about its effects to say that it’s a good idea to keep our gut microbiome strong, and to prioritize quality sleep. We sleep to keep our gut strong, and keep our gut strong to sleep well. The benefits compound over time.
If you go through a period where you’re not sleeping well, like finals week, or a family member is in the hospital, or you experience a stressful event that disrupts your sleep, give your gut some extra love. Or, if you have sleep troubles, you might want to try these steps to get your gut in balance. Here are some things to try:
- Cut out sugar so you don’t feed unfriendly strains. A particularly problematic fungus, candida albicans, thrives on sugar. Candida likes to take over, so you’ll want to cut off its food supply.
- Pick up a high-quality probiotic. Reintroduce the strains that may have died off when your sleep was all over the place.
- Pack your plate with vegetables — friendly microbes’ favorite foods — so they can take root. Beneficial bacteria love vegetables high in prebiotic fiber, like onions, leeks, asparagus, dandelion root and greens, Jerusalem artichokes, and more.
- Choose organic when you can. Sprays that kill bugs in the field will also kill beneficial bacteria in your gut.
- Eat a variety of foods. In this study, scientists found that the best predictor of sleep quality was microbial diversity. If you eat the same things over and over, the same few strains will feed and multiply while everything else dies off. Aim for 20 different fruits and vegetables every week.
There are actual sleep conditions that will require a doctor’s diagnosis and treatment, so you should always have sleep disturbances evaluated by a qualified physician. For everyday sleep troubles, focusing on your gut could go a long way.