We all know that sleep is important, but scientists have only now begun to discover just how much can go wrong when we don’t catch enough zzz’s. A night of bad sleep is sure to throw off your day, but chronic sleep irregularities and lacking a regular sleep schedule can truly have a detrimental effect on our health. What’s more, it seems these effects go deep – having an impact on our gut microbiome, too.
By Olena Valdenmaiier
Bad night’s sleep, bad mood all day? That poor gut feeling that can cloud you when you’re sleep deprived could have something to do with how your sleep patterns and gut microbiome link up. So far, it seems our microbial composition seems to effect how we sleep, and our sleep and circadian rhythms appear to influence the health and diversity of those all-important bacteria living in our gut. This is a complicated, dynamic interplay that researchers are only just beginning to unravel. To make it a little easier for you, here’s our lo-down on how skipping sleep can squash your gut bugs, and bust your mood.
Impact of Circadian Imbalance
Recent studies have observed that patients with obesity and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) often have compromised normal microbiome communities and/or a disturbed sleep cycle (circadian rhythm). These conditions are often associated with chronic inflammation, and scientists now believe that an impaired microbiome might be triggering the systemic inflammation observed during disrupted sleep.¹ At the same time, a circadian imbalance might induce gut dysbiosis. An animal study demonstrated that shifts in the light-dark cycle, combined with a high-fat, high-sugar diet, significantly altered the gut microbiota in observed mice.²
Sleep and Gut Disorders
Sleep irregularities play an important role in many gastrointestinal diseases, in turn, having problems with your gut can often affect sleep. For instance, sleep disruption is not only common in IBD patients, but can impact the rate of disease flare-ups in the future.³ This interdependent relationship between the gut and sleep underlies some novel treatment approaches that actually target sleep abnormalities in patients with gastrointestinal disorders.
Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Your Microbiome
Our health is determined by many factors, and there is more and more evidence demonstrating just how important the interaction is between our bodies and the microbes that colonise us. They can make us ill but, at the same time, they are also the ones who have the power to ensure our health.⁴ Given the link between sleep restriction, gut dysbiosis and metabolic disease, many have presumed a relationship between sleep and the gut microbiome. Interestingly, a 2017 study found that sleep restriction did not overtly influence the composition of the microbiome, suggesting there may be some independent effects at play.⁵ The healthy, lean adults in the study followed a normal diet, and were shown to be able to preserve their microbiome diversity after a week of sleep restriction.⁵ Clearly, more research is needed to delve deeper into the direct impact of sleep on the gut. Nevertheless, the good news is that there are ways to change the composition of our microbiome through diet, pre- and probiotics. No wonder our microbial inhabitants have become targets for both disease diagnosis and treatment therapies!
5 simple steps to improve your sleep
- Prioritise sleep. It is important to create enough space in your day for sleep. Try going to bed earlier. Think of sleep as an investment in your health and well-being, especially if you are already suffering from digestive issues (e.g. IBS, IBD). Lack of sleep not only increases inflammation, but also causes disease flare-ups.
- Avoid bright light before bed. Your sleep cycle follows the daily light-dark shift, such that too much light exposure in the evening can make it harder to get enough sleep. Particularly, the bright blue light emitted by your phone and computer screens can keep you awake at night. So, make sure you set up blue light filter software if you are using your screen in the evening, or – better yet – just put it down and relax.
- Reduce stress. This can come in many forms: try getting more exercise, incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine and avoid alcohol and caffeine in the afternoons.
- Adjust your diet. Food is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and balance is the key in this case. Eat fresh, cook from scratch and avoid highly processed foods. If you need ideas for some meals packed with goodness, check out GUTXY’s Instagram where we share many simple, delicious and wholesome recipes.
- Take a look at your microbiome. If you are experiencing recurring digestive issues that prevent you from sleeping, it might be worth taking a closer look at your microbiome: wellness begins in the gut and GUTXY is determined to lead you to better gut health!
- Ali, Tauseef, et al. (2013) Sleep, Immunity and Inflammation in Gastrointestinal Disorders. World Journal of Gastroenterology 19, no. 48 (2013): 9231. doi:10.3748/wjg.v19.i48.9231
- Voigt et al. (2014) Circadian Disorganization Alters Intestinal Microbiota. doi:10. 1371/ journal.pone.0097500
- Ananthakrishnan et al., (2013) Sleep Disturbance and Risk of Active Disease in Patients With Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cgh.2013.01.021
- Trinder et al. (2015) Bacteria need ‘sleep’ too?: microbiome circadian rhythmicity, metabolic disease, and beyond. Univ. Tor. Med. J. 2015;92:52–55.
- Shirley et al. (2017) Human and rat gut microbiome composition is maintained following sleep restriction. DOI:10.1073/pnas. 1620673114