Can’t Sleep? Your Gut Could Be Keeping You Up at Night

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When we’re tossing and turning in the middle of the night trying to sleep, we normally jump to the conclusion that it’s because we are feeling uncomfortable, stressed, anxious and even alert. But what if your gut is the thing keeping you awake? 

Now, we’ve all heard the old wives’ tale of how eating cheese can give you nightmares or how carrots can help you see when it’s dark; but did you know your overall health and mood can be affected by your gut? 

Your gut microbes are involved in a variety of physiological processes within your body. They interact with your hormones, which creates a relationship with your brain activity and has a strong influence over your immune system, all of which play a big part in how you respond to evening cues.

Your microbiome, essential for human development, immunity and nutrition, can actually be affecting your mood, digestion, overall health and your ability to get your thoroughly deserved eight hours sleep. 

Sleep experts at hybrid mattress brand OTTY have reached out to gut health expert,  Camilla Gray, Nutritional Therapist DipCNM at Optibac to find out how your gut can be affecting your sleep. With that, comes the simple steps you can take to improve your sleep through your gut. 

How does your gut affect your sleep?

Good quality sleep is correlated with a larger amount of bacterial diversity in our guts1. Generally, those who have a high diversity of microbes in the gut are considered the healthiest. So, if you have low diversity, it may mean that you are at risk of experiencing poor sleep.

Factors in modern-day living such as stress, travel, medications, and western diets can all reduce the diversity of gut bacteria but it’s also believed that our gut bacteria, just like their host (us), have their own circadian rhythm2

The circadian rhythm is our body clock and regulates different organs depending on the time of the day. So, this could mean that if you are eating very late at night, your gut bacteria might be winding down and not ready to digest a whole meal!  

How can improving your diet help you sleep?

To get a wider diversity of gut bacteria which is associated with better sleep, then it’s generally considered wise to eat as many plant-based foods as possible. Fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, pulses, herbs, and spices – they all count. 

These different foods all contain things called polyphenols and prebiotics which are food for your good gut bacteria, while at the same time fending off the bad ones.

Think of your gut like the Amazon rainforest with tons of different variations of flora and fauna living there. The wider the diversity of natural foods you consume, the more different variations of good gut bacteria you are feeding. 

What specific food can help you sleep?

Serotonin is a chemical precursor to melatonin, the main hormone involved in sleep, so it’s a good idea to eat foods that can help manufacture it. Serotonin is made from a constituent of protein called tryptophan, found in foods like fish, turkey, chicken, cottage cheese, beans, avocados and bananas. 

Try to eat your last meal no later than 8pm; a meal rich in carbohydrates like brown rice or potatoes can have a sleep-inducing effect. These carbohydrates can also help to encourage the body to produce serotonin. 

Choosing foods rich in magnesium for dinner can help too, this mineral is known to be mother nature’s relaxant. Think green plant foods like spinach, kale and broccoli which are all high in magnesium, alternatively a nice relaxing Epsom salt bath can do the trick! 

1 Gregory J.Grosickia Bryan L.Riemanna Andrew A.Flatta Taylor Valentinob Michael S.Lustgartenc. (2020). Self-reported sleep quality is associated with gut microbiome composition in young, healthy individuals: a pilot study.Sleep Medicine. 73 (4), 76-81.

2 Christoph A. Thaiss et al. (2016). Microbiota Diurnal Rhythmicity Programs Host Transcript Oscillations Graphical Abstract Highlights Intestinal microbiota biogeography and metabolome undergo diurnal oscillations Circadian oscillations.Cell. 167 (12), P1495-1510.

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