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There’s no escaping the importance of quality, regular sleep. But science is now revealing sleep doesn’t only impact your energy levels, it affects your health in numerous other ways, from your immune system to your brain to your heart.
Recent research has found your gut microbiome – the collection of bacteria resident in your intestines – is influenced by your sleep patterns, and in turn, affects how well you sleep. Read on to discover more and find out how you can harness your gut to improve your sleep and support your health.
Your circadian rhythm is a daily cycle of biological processes that reset themselves more or less every 24 hours. The function of this cycle is to align biological processes with regular, predictable environmental changes, like night and day, to help them function better.
Your circadian rhythm or sleep/wake cycle is governed by light. When your eyes sense light rays, messages are sent via your optic nerve to your brain. These then tell your pituitary gland to make less melatonin, the hormone designed to make you feel sleepy.
Cells in your gut have a circadian rhythm of their own. They influence how quickly food moves through your intestines and affect nutrient absorption. Science has found that if the sleep/wake cycle is disrupted, for example by working night shifts, the cells lining the intestines become more vulnerable to injury. This explains why shift workers and people suffering from poor sleep tend to suffer from gastrointestinal issues like IBS and leaky gut.
Bacteria have a biological clock too. So the bacteria in your gut change their behaviour over a 24-hour period. The times when you’re active and when you’re at rest, as well as when you eat all influence the circadian rhythm of your gut bacteria.
The bacteria’s circadian rhythm influences where your gut bacteria like to hang out, how readily they stick to your intestinal lining, and the type of chemical messengers they produce. Remember these substances, naturally produced by your gut bacteria, affect processes all around the body. They influence inflammation, brain health, hormone balance, insulin sensitivity and even mental health.
Your sleep quantity, quality and pattern all affect the overall health of the bacteria living in your gut. Scientists have found a greater diversity of bacterial species, linked with better metabolic health, in people with a consistent sleep/wake cycle. But people who tended to wake up again after going to sleep had a less diverse bacterial ecosystem living inside them. When sleep is disturbed, changes seem to occur rapidly, with one study noting changes to gut bacteria in as little as 48 hours following sleep disruption 1.
On the other hand, your gut bacteria affect your own circadian rhythm. Certain types of bacteria release sleep-promoting chemicals, as well as substances telling your immune system to switch into patrol and repair mode while you’re asleep.
Synchronising your circadian rhythm with that of your gut microbes is beneficial to health. Improving your sleep will not only help your gut microbes to flourish but in turn will support your immune system, balance your hormones and improve your metabolic health, reducing the likelihood of developing disorders like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Sleeping problems have such a profound effect on your overall health, improving your sleep will pay dividends now and in the future. To explore how lifestyle changes can help improve your health, contact me to arrange an appointment. Take charge of your health today.
Would you like to improve your sleep and your gut health? Why not book a free 15-minute discovery call to see if Functional Medicine is for you?
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