With bottles of prebiotics and probiotics – I like Soil Based Organism Probiotics use code sleepdr for a 10% discount- or even yogurt promising to fix gut health or support gut bacteria, digestion is clearly on a lot of Americans’ minds. But what if I told you that your gut and digestion may be causing sleep problems, too?
In the past, I’ve told you about the link between sleep deprivation, early death, and your gut.
This week I’ll discuss how to restore gut health, based upon 2020 research, and why gut health is important for managing sleep disorders like sleep apnea and even reducing the impact of shift work.
What is Gut Health?
First, a refresher.
Gut health is a general phrase that describes the state and balance of bacteria in our gastrointestinal system that helps us digest food. Multiple organs, including the liver, gallbladder, and even the kidneys are involved.
When I eat a sandwich, over a trillion microorganisms, known as gut microbiota, work to digest and absorb vitamins and nutrients and get rid of anything my body doesn’t need.
What Does New Research Say about Sleep and Gut Health?
I’ve written about how microbes help produce melatonin, as well as other hormones, like dopamine, serotonin, and GABA to regulate sleep cycles. We also know that not sleeping enough can disrupt that balance. And now new research reaffirms just how critical taking care of both sleep and gut health is.
A New Treatment for Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea, or obstructive sleep disorder, is both common and serious. But new research suggests that manipulating the gut microbiome, through probiotics, could reduce the consequences of sleep apnea.
The study followed mice placed in conditions to mimic the intermittent cessation of breathing as you see in sleep apnea. Mice given custom probiotics slept longer and had fewer symptoms than the control group.
Researchers think that we may be able to combine restoring gut health with traditional CPAP therapy to reduce risks like heart, cognitive, and metabolic disorders from sleep apnea.
A New Way to Manage Shift Work
Shift workers, listen up. You know how much I talk about how a regular sleep routine is important, and how shift work can be challenging because it goes against our natural sleep-wake cycles.
But improving your gut health could be the next best step.
Preliminary research suggests that shift workers tend to have changes in eating patterns and that those eating pattern changes are linked to alterations in gut microbiota. In turn, sleep disruptions associated with shift work can further damage gut health.
How do you Improve Gut Health?
Improving gut health means something different for everyone–but these tips can help you restore your gut health, whether you’re looking to better control sleep apnea, manage shift work, or sleep better.
Get Assessed for a Sleep Disorder
If you have difficulty sleeping regularly, if you snore frequently, or if you are tired throughout the day, it is a good idea to speak to a sleep specialist to rule out a sleep disorder. Knowing if you have a sleep disorder, especially sleep apnea, can help you get the treatment you need so you sleep better and support your gut health.
Foods for Gut Health
Good food for gut health include:
Fiber Rich Fruits & Vegetables
Fiber helps keep your digestive system moving and even supports your gut microbiota. Reach for your favorite fruits and vegetables for a little extra fiber each day. Some people may need to reduce or cook cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, which can cause gas and bloat.
Unless you have gluten intolerance or something like Celiac’s Disease, almost all whole grains can support good gut health. Whole grain oats, buckwheat, and unprocessed corn (maize) are especially helpful for promoting healthy gut bacteria.
For some people, fermented foods don’t sound appetizing but there’s actually a lot to like. I find many people who say they don’t like fermented foods often don’t realize they are already eating some because they don’t think of them as being fermented. Once they get over that hurdle trying new foods is easier. My favorites include kimchi, sourdough bread, and yogurt and kefir. You can also add sauerkraut, miso, and pickled vegetables.
Calming teas include green and chai tea, which promote digestion; ginger tea for nausea; oolong tea for acid reflux; and peppermint tea for soothing an irritated stomach. Go with decaf or herbal whenever possible– Pique Tea has a nice line of both and it is my go to tea.
You may not be able to change your schedule if you’re doing shift work, but everyone can make sleep and gut healthy lifestyle choices a priority.
Get Regular Exercise
Just 15-30 minutes of regular activity can have big implications for regulating your sleep-wake cycle, and, as I previously covered, can even lower inflammation by increasing the ratio of ‘good’ bacteria in your gut.
Manage Your Stress
Stress has an impact on nearly everything, from sleep to energy levels to even gut health. Try unwinding at night with a journal or light reading, practice yoga or deep breathing, and seek help if you need it.
Avoid or Cut Back on Gut Health (and Sleep) Killers
Smoking, too much caffeine, and excessive drinking can all wreak havoc on both sleep and gut health. Another culprit that might surprise you is artificial sweeteners, try and limit usage where you can.
Check Your Medications
Some medications may interfere both with your sleep and even gut health. Always check with a doctor before going off medications, and avoid taking antibiotics if you don’t need them.
Spending a little time thinking about your gut health and what you can do to improve it may turn out to be one of the most beneficial things you can do for a better and healthier night of sleep.