Your gut flora affects the quality of your sleep

SleepSpec on Gut Health and Good Sleep

Your gut flora affects the quality of your sleep

It may seem inconceivable that your gut flora may affect the quality of your sleep. However research indicates unhealthy gut microbiome could be the cause of your sleepless nights.  

A recent article published in October 2019 in PLoS ONE explains the findings of a study by researchers from Nova Southeastern University (NSU) in the USA.[1]  The study suggests that your gut microbiome can influence your health through the two-way communication path between the gut and the brain. Growing evidence suggests that the gut microbiome can influence sleep quality.

At the heart – or gut – of the matter, the researchers’ aim was to find out the extent of the connection between what is going on in our insides and how that may affect the quality of the sleep we experience.

“Given the strong gut-brain bidirectional communication they likely influence each other,” says Jaime Tartar, PhD, a professor and research director in NSU’s College of Psychology who was part of the research team, in a release. “Based on previous reports, we think that poor sleep probably exerts a strong negative effect on gut health/microbiome diversity.”[2]

What is the gut biome?

So, what exactly is the “gut microbiome”?  It is all the bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi and their genetic material found in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract.  In humans, the gut microbiota or gut flora has the largest numbers of bacteria and the greatest number of species compared to other areas of the body.

It has been found that the diversity of these microorganisms could be the key to a good night’s sleep.

In this one month study the male subjects were monitored by wearing high-tech Apple watches to bed, to monitor their vitals and determine how well they slept.  The subjects’ gut microbiomes were tested and it was found that those who had slept well had a more diverse gut microbiome.

The diversity of gut microbiota, or lack thereof, is associated with other health issues, such as Parkinson’s disease, depression and decreased mental functioning.

Sleep improves health

It has been proven that a person’s psychological and mental health are also affected by the quality of their sleep.  Tartar says, “Getting a good night’s sleep can lead to improved health, and a lack of sleep can have detrimental effects”.[3]

The research team examined the association between sleep and the immune system and how sleep affects our psychological and emotional states. The research team says that they have identified several specific bacteria that are related to sleep health, which “holds the promise for improved sleep via manipulation of the gut microbiome”.

He says understanding how these parts of human physiology work may lead to a better understanding of the “bidirectional communication” between the person and their gut microbiome, and could lead to novel sleep intervention strategies.

There are a number of other factors that determine a person’s gut microbiome including genetics, medicines/drugs and diet.

Blue light and sleep

Another factor that modern science recognises as having a critical role in the quality of our sleep is exposure to blue light.  Looking at TV, cell phone and computer screens a few hours before sleep, inhibits melatonin production, the chemical that our body produces naturally to allow us to go into a restful sleep. 

Already, a strategy has been developed by Dr. Rob Daniel, an ophthalmologist in South Africa, to block out blue light.  He designed blue-light-blocking spectacles that filter out the blue light so that we can continue viewing our electronic devices before bedtime without affecting the quality of our sleep.

[1] https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0222394

[2] https://www.technologynetworks.com/immunology/news/gut-microbiome-affected-by-poor-sleep-326513

[3] Ibid.

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