Gut Health & Sleep are closely linked.
Trillions of microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses) live in your intestinal tract. In a healthy body with the right balance of species, these organisms help keep your gut running smoothly… but not so much if your microbiome is out of balance. When you have too little beneficial bacteria, the harmful bacteria throw your gut out of whack creating a state of “dysbiosis.” This promotes inflammation and prevents nutrient absorption. In this post we’ll look at gut health and sleep—and the circular relationship between the two:
- What happens to our sleep when our gut is out of whack?
- What causes inflammation?
- A little-known fact about your gut
- Is gut health influenced by sleep loss?
- How to improve your gut… and your sleep
What your gut needs to stay healthy…
We’ll also look at the role prebiotics and probiotics play in maintaining a healthy gut. And as a bonus, we have 31+ Superfoods you can add to your diet to nourish your gut bacteria. Fixing your gut issues will help fix your sleep issues.
If your gut isn’t as healthy as it should be, you’ll want to adopt some new lifestyle habits. Here’s why…
A healthy gut microbiome allows you to have:
- Consistent Energy
- Healthy Reactions to Food
- Lower Stress Levels
- Mental Clarity
- Pain-Free Regularity
If this doesn’t sound like you, it may be time to pay more attention to your diet… it may also be time to speak with your doctor.
What happens when your gut is out of whack?
Symptoms of an unhealthy gut
- Autoimmune Problems
- Bloating / Gas / Heartburn
- Brain Fog / Chronic Fatigue
- Food Intolerances
- Frequent Mood Changes
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Skin Irritations.
- Stool Changes
- Stomach Upset / Pain
- Sudden Irregularity
- Sugar Cravings
- Weight gain or loss
What happens when your gut is imbalanced? It has a hard time absorbing nutrients and regulating blood sugar— which can cause you to pack on the pounds.
Gut imbalance=weight gain=disrupted sleep.
Reforming our eating and lifestyle habits may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. The best thing to do is to start slowly and then work up to a consistently healthier diet and lifestyle. Here’s something called a 3-day Gut Reset to help you get started.
How a 3-day gut reset works…
- You’re going to eliminate foods from your diet that feed harmful bacteria and thus cause inflammation.
- You’ll begin introducing wholesome prebiotic foods, which feed beneficial bacteria. And…
- You’re going to make sure to exercise, stay hydrated and get your full 8-hours of sleep each night.
This is a quick “start,”—not a quick-“fix.” Though it will positively affect your microbiome, this reset is meant to be a transition step—you’ll need a longer-term commitment to see lasting changes. Make sure it includes the exercise, hydration and sleep.
Interesting Fact: Did you know your gut has its own brain?
Tucked away in the walls of your digestive system is what scientists refer to as your little brain. Employing the same chemicals and cells as the brain, this vast network aids digestion and alerts the brain when something goes awry.
The scientific term for this extra brain is the Enteric Nervous System (ENS). It lives within two thin layers of the more than 100 million nerve cells lining your digestive tract. Primarily it controls digestion, from swallowing—to releasing enzymes which help process food—to controlling blood flow for nutrient absorption—to elimination.
Study of this “second brain” has provided better understanding of its effects not only on digestion—but also on mood and overall health…
- Early indicators are that it may affect cognitive function and memory.
- Additionally, the interactions between nerve signals, gut hormones and digestive system bacteria potentially affect metabolism as well—by raising or reducing risk for certain conditions, including type 2 diabetes.
How poor gut health affects daily activities…
Seems to me, with this doubled brainpower, we should all be able to get our guts under control. But so far, that doesn’t seem to be the case. According to the American Gastroenterological Association, 60-70-Million Americans’ lives are altered due to digestive ailments but sadly, they are hesitant to seek medical help. Here ‘s how digestive problems are affecting American’s daily routines…
- 40% have stopped daily activities due to uncomfortable bowel symptoms including:
- Exercising: 19%
- Running errands: 17%
- Spending time with family & friends: 16%
To address the issue, the AGA launched its Trust Your Gut awareness campaign to encourage these folks to shorten the time between onset of bowel symptoms and discussion with a healthcare provider. Take control over your digestive issues… before they take control of you!
Frequent bloating, gas, and heartburn may be your gut signaling you that it’s having a hard time processing food and eliminating waste. It’s probably time for better food choices. It may also be time to talk with your doctor…
Which other system is in your gut?
70% of your immune system is in your gut. Maintaining a balanced digestive system won’t just affect your energy levels, mood, and weight—it will also help stave off illness. By keeping your gut healthy, you’re giving your immune system what it needs to protect you from harmful substances, germs, and cell changes that could otherwise leave you at risk for illnesses.
The foods we choose to put into our bodies affect the composition, size, diversity, and daily rhythms of our gut microbiota. This in turn, affects our immune cells—and compromises our sleep. If our immune systems are to be strong, it’s important we consume whole foods like high-fiber fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and wild-caught fish.
Eating a wholesome diet to improve gut health, and getting enough deep, rejuvenating sleep, is critical to a healthy immune system.
And as we know, digestive issues and chronic illnesses also have an adverse effect on sleep.
Up your protein for better immune support
Michael C. Garcia, MD, UCLA Health recommends eating protein at every meal rather than having a large portion at dinner. This is because the immune system functions better on more regular protein servings. As he explains, “Muscle is an endocrine organ that directly affects the immune system, and muscle is made from protein.” *Getting your dietary protein from plant sources will be the most beneficial to your gut microbiome.
What happens to our sleep when our gut is out of whack?
A study out of Japan found microbe depletion eliminated serotonin in the gut. As we know, Serotonin levels affect sleep/wake cycles. The goal then, is to make changes to the microbes in our gut by changing our diets. This has the best potential to address sleep issues, and overall health issues, caused by imbalances in the gut microbiome.
Is our gut health influenced by sleep loss?
The relationship between sleep and the gut is bi-directional. Poor sleep creates a poor environment for gut microbiota. Poor digestive conditions in the microbiome set us up for sleep issues.
Lack of sleep increases stress, which affects gut health in these ways:
- Food sensitivities
- Stomach pain
Stress also triggers increased blood pressure, heart rate and cortisol levels—which all impede restful sleep.
How to improve your gut health… and your sleep
The usual responses to addressing gut issues are to:
- Add more fiber to improve bowel health.
- And avoid excess sugars which are linked to inflammation.
Both approaches will actually guard against inflammation—which plays a huge role in disrupting gut health. Inflammation also causes sleep disruptions and shortens sleep duration. So, let’s take a moment to focus on inflammation and how to combat it.
What causes inflammation?
Some causes of Inflammation are Stress, Dehydration, Sleep loss, Smoking, Alcohol use, or an imbalance in your gut bacteria. However, the usual cause—and the easiest to correct—is an inflammatory diet.
Hi-risk food groups, additives, and preservatives—commercially prepared foods… these Inflammation triggers are an imminent threat to our health and well-being. Here are five culprits:
- Artificial Sweeteners
- Refined Grains
- Processed Meats
- Trans Fats
DailyHealthPost’s videos on Inflammation will help you understand this health menace better—you should check them out. Included is The Top 13 Foods that Cause Inflammation which is especially helpful. It provides the food type, where you’ll find it lurking in your diet, and healthier alternatives for you to try.
You may also want to try this easy anti-inflammatory salad recipe. Eating healthier doesn’t have to be complicated or boring. And it’s the easiest way to begin seeing positive changes to your gut health and sleep quality!
A word about food intolerance
Sometimes we’re sensitive to certain foods but not necessarily aware of it. Symptoms may take a while to manifest and when they do show up, they may not be recognized for what they are. We may pass them off as headaches or fatigue—to our detriment.
Repeated long-term consumption of foods that irritate us can lead to inflammation and eventually chronic disease. The usual suspects are Eggs, Gluten, Milk, Nuts, and Nightshade vegetables. If you suspect you may be intolerant to a particular food, take a tip from Step #5 below…
8 Steps to improving your gut health…
Before we get started on the list of Superfoods to aid your gut restoration, here are some lifestyle adjustments to help you get the most benefits from your efforts. Mastering these steps will go a long way in helping to improve your gut health and sleep.
1—Add Probiotics to your diet
Probiotics like kefir, kimchi and kombucha promote growth of healthy gut bacteria. Research also indicates probiotics have a direct effect on sleep—by making it easier to fall asleep—and sleep more efficiently.
Smoking harms the digestive system by affecting its ability to function correctly while converting food into nutrients. It is hazardous to your stomach, pancreas and colon and increases the risk of Chron’s Disease and Gallstones.
Managing your stress helps manage your gut. Studies have shown that being stressed makes you more likely to develop IBS (irritable bowel syndrome.) Trust me. You don’t want it.
Eating too fast, causes you to swallow more air—which creates bloating and gas. Slow down and chew your food thoroughly so your food is fully digested and your body is able to absorb all the nutrients. You’ll also enjoy your food more.
If you find you can’t tolerate certain foods because they cause acid reflux, cramping or nausea, eliminate them from your diet completely for two weeks. You can try re-introducing them, but if the problems persist, remove the food from your diet.
Improve all aspects of your health by moving your body more. Exercise is linked to the quantity of beneficial microbial species in your microbiome, as well as carbohydrate metabolism—it also helps keep you regular. And helps you sleep.
7—Get your ZZ’s
While you’re snoozing, your digestive system is working to repair and rebuild gut tissue—and growing good gut bacteria to aid your digestive processes. Other parts of your body are under repair as well. Make sure you’re getting 7-8 hours.
Drinking enough fluids helps break down food so your body is able to absorb the nutrients and water softens stool which helps avoid constipation. Keeping your body hydrated is also beneficial in maintaining healthy sleep patterns.
Balancing your gut with Probiotic & Prebiotic Superfoods
Optimum gut health is achieved through balancing good and bad bacteria in the digestive system—where bowel function is governed. These bacteria also help eliminate toxins, aid in metabolism regulation, and combat illnesses. Both probiotics and prebiotics are needed to maintain this balance.
What do probiotics do?
The purpose of probiotics, which contain live microorganisms, is to maintain or improve the gut’s “good” bacteria. We get them through foods and supplements.
Superfood sources of probiotics include:
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Dill Pickles
- Greek Yogurt
Use Peppermint as a natural treatment for irritable bowel syndrome. Its soothing, antispasmodic properties will calm your digestive system.
Addressing Gut Health & Sleep: IBS patients have more sleep difficulties including delayed sleep onset and repeated awakenings. Try a relaxing cup of peppermint tea in the evening!
What do prebiotics do?
Prebiotic foods have natural soluble fibers that feed the “good” bacteria in the large intestine. They help balance gut flora and promote healthy bowel function. The good bacteria eat the prebiotic fiber, and this produces beneficial short chain fatty acids which inhibits growth of disease-causing pathogens. This helps maintain a healthy intestinal lining. Prebiotics are abundantly available in fresh fruits and vegetables.
Chia seeds are prebiotic superstars for maintaining gut health. They’re packed with high quantities of fiber and omega-3 short-chain fatty acids.
Superfood sources of prebiotics include:
Alfalfa / Apples / Asparagus / Avocados
Bananas / Beetroot / Berries / Black Beans
Broccoli / Carrots / Chia Seeds / Flaxseed
Garlic / Ginger / Grapefruit / Kiwi Fruit
Leafy Greens / Leeks / Lemon / Miso
Oats / Pears / Prunes / Wheatgrass
Ginger relieves constipation, bloating and nausea, and replenishes beneficial gut bacteria. It also has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties which minimize inflammation and swelling caused by illness or injury.
Have some ginger 30 minutes before your evening meal to improve your digestion—and your sleep!
These prebiotic superfoods offer unique extras…
Miso is considered to have both prebiotic and probiotic qualities.
Miso improves digestion and because it’s high in probiotics, it helps the body maintain healthy bacteria levels. This bacterium aids digestive health by reducing gas, diarrhea, bloating and constipation. Miso has anti-aging properties, boosts the immune system, improves bone health, lowers cancer risk, and promotes a healthy nervous system.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids, considered to be a prebiotic, have miraculous benefits…
When the tissues in our body have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, they signal an enzyme called intestinal alkaline phosphatase (IAP). IAP helps to control microbial growth, maintains diversity in the microbiome and helps strengthen the intestinal lining.
Omega-3’s improve blood sugar regulation, decrease hunger levels, reduce inflammation and increase metabolism of fat. One fatty acid found in fish oil has been found to help probiotics “stick” to intestinal cells and boost bifidobacteria levels—meaning they actually make your probiotics work better. Here you’ll find 26 foods to make sure you get the recommended dose of Omega-3’s each day.
Wheatgrass is a prebiotic that also deserves a spotlight.
High in magnesium, Wheatgrass functions as an anti-inflammatory. In addition, it has alkaline and cleansing properties which help eliminate toxins and prevent growth of pathogens. Happily, it’s also high in chlorophyll, making it a natural deodorizer. This means you can worry less about those embarrassing side effects of poor digestion: halitosis (bad breath) and body odor.
Stress and your gut
Stress is a pervasive issue in our lives—we’ve talked a lot about what it does to our sleep health. This is no less true when it comes to its effects on our digestive systems. Gut issues and inflammation in the nervous system often lead to anxiety and depression—and as we keep saying, they both wreck sleep.
This is because our body’s natural response to stress creates extreme changes to blood sugars in the middle of the night, which lead to a stress response. Not only is our sleep disrupted, but those dreaded inflammatory conditions have been triggered. Our circadian rhythms are off kilter, and we’re headed for considerable emotional distress. We may also be headed for health issues—like migraines.
Stress is a real headache…
Science tells us there may be a link between headaches and gut health—especially if nausea or vomiting accompanies the migraine. Studies show people with frequent headaches are more likely to have gastrointestinal disorders as well. And those who develop chronic fatigue are likely to have gut imbalances.
90% of all headaches are classified as tension headaches which are usually related to stress, depression or anxiety. So, there you have it. Not dealing with your stress is not an option. Get started on that exercise routine. Practice your relaxation rituals. Pop in a pair of our brain-calming sleep earbuds.
Food for thought…
Well, this post has provided a lot of actionable tips to help you get your gut balanced—and your sleep back on track. But as Hippocrates recognized, only we ourselves can do the work needed to heal our digestive systems.
This isn’t a fad diet—it’s a lifestyle change—and not a temporary one. You need to be invested in the process of healing your gut. And, to do this, you need to be willing to put aside the foods and habits that are keeping you tired, moody, and unwell.
Start by making small changes every day—make better food choices, get some exercise, keep yourself
hydrated, and make sure you’re getting your ZZ’s.
Follow this plan to see positive changes to your gut—and to start getting better sleep—before
our next post!
Until next time…
Sleep well and be well.