It’s no secret that a good night’s sleep can be the answer to a lot of problems. Sleep is a key player in keeping our psycho-physical health in check through the gut-brain axis, influencing our hormones, frame of mind and even weight. Over the last few years, the gut microbiome, a large complicated system of bacteria found within the gastrointestinal tract, has received a lot of attention from researchers. Specifically, the link between sleep disorders and an unbalanced gut microbiome.
Like many biological processes, recent findings have indicated that the human gut microbiome is diurnal – it works off a 24-hr clock with activity during the day and inactivity during the night, aka our microbiome also sleeps. Our microbiome responds to the fasting/feeding cycle, therefore during times of interrupted sleep, jetlag, late night snacking or irregular sleeping patterns this can impact the cyclical composition of the gut microbiome.
The gut-brain axis is a two-way system where if you are nurturing your gut microbiome your psychological health will benefit and vice versa. For instance, a disruption to the gut-brain axis has associations with prevalent gastrointestinal disorders like IBS and common mental health complaints like anxiety and depression.
When the bacteria in the gut is out of balance this is known as dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is commonly an underlying cause in the pathogenesis of various chronic health issues due to its promotion of systemic inflammation, which is the prime suspect in chronic disease.
So, if you are experiencing poor sleep your microbiome probably is too. Here are some excellent tips on nurturing your gut brain axis to get it all back in balance.
Get Your Probiotics
Probiotics are the good guys in your gut microbiome – the flora that decrease inflammation and keep out the bad flora. Some of these good guys are strains bacteria such as Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Saccharomyces. The easiest way of benefitting this flora is by including probiotic functional foods in your diet. Sauerkraut, milk kefir, miso, yoghurt, kimchi, tempeh and some cheeses with active cultures are fantastic sources of probiotics. Add these to your daily nutrition to reap the benefits.
Create a Night Routine
Just like you have a morning routine to set you up for the day, start implementing a night routine to set you up for better sleep. Of course, there are times when you won’t be able to go to sleep at the same time but having consistent bedtimes and wake up times are favourable for health.
This routine is known as sleep hygiene, behavioural and environmental habits that promote sleep. Some recommendations are regular exercise, avoiding excessive caffeine and alcohol intake, a comfortable sleep environment, stress management and consistent bedtimes.
Avoid Eating Right Before Bed
The timing of meals has shown to be a modifiable factor in interrupted sleep and giving your food time to digest before bed is also a common sleep hygiene recommendation. As we know with our microbiome being diurnal, having food right before bed interferes with the microbiomes cycle and extends the activity time as gastric emptying is estimated 2-4 hours post ingestion. Studies have shown that eating within 3hrs of bedtime increases your likelihood of waking up through the night. Prioritising earlier dinner times are absolutely recommended for a happy microbiome.
Set Your Circadian Rhythm
Your body has a rhythm. Its works alongside an internal body clock known as the circadian rhythm that influences many daily biological and physiological processes including sleep-wake cycles. The main modulator of circadian rhythms is light, as we wake and sleep with the sun. Waking with the sun and getting sunlight in the morning will promote a healthy rhythm along with reducing light exposure before bed or at night- get off your phone!
However, this rhythm is also modulated by the gut microbiome – the bidirectional talk between the gut and brain – and its metabolic roles. Allowing your body enough time to fast during the night helps to set the microbiomes rhythm therefore setting the circadian rhythm. It’s all a big, connected loop!
Wake up with the sun, get your morning rays, avoid harsh light at night and digest before bed to get back in rhythm. Your gut-brain axis won’t know what’s hit it.
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