Sleep is easily one of the most important things you do each day.
How long you sleep and how well you sleep can have a profound effect on your overall health – including your gut health.
Mood, energy levels, and mental clarity all tend to decline when we don’t get enough sleep. But not enough sleep throws off more than just your ability to make it through the day. Over time, a lack of sleep can profoundly affect your long-term health.
According to the National Center for Disease Prevention, adults who get fewer than 7 hours of sleep per night are more likely to experience chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression. Sleep-deprived adults are also more likely to take risks and make poor decisions – making physical injuries and performance issues at work or school all the more likely.
What happens when we sleep?
It may not seem like it, but there’s a lot happening when you’re asleep. Your body is in housekeeping mode, getting rid of toxic waste, repairing cells, storing and organizing new information in the brain, and releasing hormones and proteins.
Your body “knows” when to perform these essential functions based on signals received from the brain. Those signals are emitted based on 24-hour cycles known as your circadian rhythms. Irregular and inadequate sleep throws off your circadian rhythms, which can disrupt your body’s ability to repair and protect itself.
Sleep and your second brain
Just as your brain is active during sleep, directing and controlling this nightly process of repair and restoration, so too is your gut. This “second brain,” as it is sometimes called, performs vital digestive, metabolic, and immune functions while in close communication with your brain via the gut-brain axis, a super highway of sorts connecting the enteric and central nervous systems.
More than 30 neurotransmitters — including serotonin, GABA, dopamine, and glutamate — are produced in the gut, linking gut health to mood and relaxation.1 And, research now suggests that microbiome diversity influences both the quality of your sleep, and how long you sleep.2
Getting a good night’s rest
All that said, there are plenty of things you can do to boost the number of hours of sleep you get each night. In addition to eating foods that support a healthy microbiome, staying hydrated, and getting plenty of exercise during the day, consider these tips for improving your sleep:
- Follow a consistent sleep schedule. Set your internal clock by going to bed and getting up at the same time each day.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. Doing the same things in the same order before bed can help cue your body to start winding down. Take a warm shower, read a book, or spend some time meditating to help you fall asleep.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol. Try not to consume caffeinated beverages and foods after midday. Avoid consuming alcohol in the hours before bed, which can cause you to wake up during the night.
- Create a comfortable sleep space. Make sure your environment is conducive to quality sleep – use a sound machine if necessary, and set thermostats to a comfortable temperature (between 60 - 67 degrees Fahrenheit). Keep your room as dark as possible to encourage your brain’s natural production of melatonin.
- Establish an exercise curfew. Getting exercise during the day can help you sleep soundly at night, but exercise later in the evening can have the opposite effect. Try to complete any exercise at least three hours before bedtime.
- Turn off all electronics. Keep electronic devices out of the bedroom, and avoid screen time two hours before bed.
Save it for later. Avoid anxiety-provoking activities and conversations close to bedtime. If there’s something on your mind or something you need to discuss with someone, write it down or schedule a time to discuss it in the coming days.
- Appleton, ND, “The Gut-Brain Axis: Influence of Microbiota on Mood and Mental Health,” IMCJ, 2018 Aug.
- Smith, “Gut microbiome diversity is associated with sleep physiology in humans,” PLoS One, 2019 Oct.