Have you been struggling with getting a good night's rest? Feeling sluggish in the morning even after eight hours of shut-eye? If so, you're not alone: up to 70 million Americans suffer from sleep-related issues.
Current research shows a connection between the gut microbiome and sleep patterns, and evidence suggests that improving your gut's healthy bacteria can lead to more restful sleep.
So many people I talk to these days are struggling with sleep problems: trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or nightmares, and unrestful sleep to name a few issues. Sleep is one of the most important things to our overall health. During sleep, our body rests and repairs the damage from daily wear and tear. This is when our brain “takes out the trash”, during our deepest sleep cycle. If you aren’t getting enough quality sleep then you probably aren’t clearing out the trash properly.
Read on to discover how probiotics for sleep can help lower your stress, activate opiate receptors for better quality sleep, and help you get more rest.
What Is Gut Health?
Gut health refers to the physical state and physiologic function of the parts that make up the gastrointestinal tract. Anxiety, fear, excitement, and nerves of all kinds can affect digestion. And, if the digestive system is not working optimally, it may create the nervous feelings you're experiencing. Research suggests taking probiotics can help strengthen gut health, and therefore improve immunity and reduce stress and anxiety.
The Second Brain
Your enteric nervous system is known as the "second brain."The microbiome produces molecules that communicate with both brains and interacts with the nerve cells of the enteric nervous system.
The enteric nervous system communicates with your brain by triggering emotions and anxiety, and changing your mood. This is the feeling of a 'gut instinct.' When your flight-or-fight response is triggered, the central nervous system communicates with the enteric nervous system to slow down or stop digestion.
Anxiety, fear, excitement, and nerves of all kinds can affect digestion. And, if the digestive system is not working optimally, it may create the nervous feelings you're experiencing. Research suggests taking probiotics can help strengthen gut health, and therefore improve immunity and reduce stress and anxiety.
The Importance of Sleep
According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, healthy sleep patterns are essential for overall good health. The average adult ideally gets a minimum of seven hours of sleep a night, with eight to nine hours being optimum. Without enough sleep you can experience:
Sleep deprivation is known to cause hallucinations and trouble communicating, and can shut down the immune system.
One of the best things to do to help reset your circadian clock is to retrain yourself to rise and sleep with the cycle of the sun. Wake up just before dawn and go outside and take a walk as the sun is rising.
This exposure to the natural light cycle will begin to reset your clock. Try to limit your exposure to artificial lights during the day if possible. Use light bulbs that mimic the natural light spectrum. As the day draws to an end, limit or halt your use of the phone and the computer. This is difficult in our modern world. A good way to start is just by turning things off 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime. If you have a dark room in your house, try meditating in the dark room before going to bed.
Have a set routine - clean sheets, a comfy bed and a cool temperature in the room can also help improve your sleep. Limit caffeine to one cup, or even better, eliminate it all together. I was amazed at how much deeper my sleep was after I cut out coffee from my daily routine.
A few key take-aways to note from Dr. Stasha Gominak's research on sleep:
- When we sleep, our microbiome produces all the Vitamin b we need. Until then, we must supplement.
- Low Vitamin D levels interfere with sleep. This makes a lot of sense, because vitamin D is synthesized in the skin on exposure to sunlight which affects the circadian clock
- B vitamin deficiencies, B12 and thiamine, in particularly affect sleep
- When I started taking thiamine; I began sleeping through the night
- Another great resource to check out is a podcast Robert Rodgers did withDr. Gominak.
The Microbiome's Role in Sleep
Current research shows that the microbiome may change with the body's circadian rhythm, your internal clock that signals when it's time to wake up and fall asleep. It follows the rising and setting of the sun. This rhythm also influences the body's hunger cues. Research from the Weizmann Institute points to the gut microbiome altering the body's overall circadian rhythm.
If your gut is not at optimum health, there may be an effect on your body's sleep cycle, and vice versa: working against natural sleep rhythms might affect your gut health. The link between gut health and sleep rhythm is important because so many sleep disorders result in insomnia, sleep apnea, and lack of rapid eye movement (REM) cycle, a stage of sleep associated with dreaming and memory consolidation.
The microbiome affects sleep through the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve, part of the parasympathetic nervous system, works with the immune, digestive, and emotional systems. If the relationship between gut health and sleep health is clear, it's beneficial to explore strengthening the microbiome with any probiotics that can help you sleep. Read our in-depth post here to learn more about how gut health impacts sleep.
Can Probiotics Help You Sleep Better?
Because your microbiome influences your sleep cycle, ensuring a healthy diversity of bacteria is important to support the gut-brain connection and healthy serotonin levels. The right probiotics can help with sleep but not all probiotics are the same.
Serotonin is essential for experiencing signals from our brain that you’re ready for sleep. This signaling could result in a more relaxed and good control of the sleep cycle or it could adversely affect it.
Without creating enough serotonin, the body will struggle to experience a night of sound sleep. Increasing the healthy diversity of your microbiome may help produce more serotonin, as 90 percent of serotonin is produced in the digestive tract.
Stress is also a well-known factor in influencing quality of sleep. High levels of stress affect mood, anxiety, and irritability. Stress and lack of sleep are linked with depression and other mood disorders.
A stressful mental state affects your gut health by altering the healthy bacteria. Current studies show that adding fiber-rich foods like berries and avocados, and prebiotics and probiotics to your diet increases better sleep.
Prebiotics, aka fiber, has long been known as the hero that keeps tummy troubles away.
The connection between prebiotics, probiotics, and the microbiome-gut-brain axis
Your gut contains trillions of microbes and their genetic material that impact the quality of your health. Your gut bacteria and brain direct your circadian rhythm — your body clock — based on exposure to light and the timing of your meals.
There are different ways in which your gut and brain talk to each other, and the connection between the two is called the microbiome-gut-brain axis.
What are prebiotics and probiotics?
Beneficial bacteria and yeasts that have a beneficial effect on your health are known as probiotics.
In contrast, prebiotics such as inulin are indigestible carbohydrates such as GOS (galactooligosaccharides) and FOS (fructooligosaccharides) that feed the probiotics in your gut and keep your digestive system healthy. A healthy and diverse gut bacteria may promote sleep and boost stress resilience.
An imbalance between the good and bad bacteria in your gut is known as dysbiosis. Gut dysbiosis has been associated with inflammation and potentially sleep-disrupting metabolites (small bioactive molecules produced during food breakdown).
The gut-brain axis
Your gut microbiome and brain communicate with each other through the following gut-brain signaling pathways:
- Immune system pathway
- Endocrine system pathway
- Nervous system pathway
Communication between your brain and gut can potentially influence your brain function, stress response, and sleep patterns.
Probiotics in your gut produce by-products called metabolites such as:
- Melatonin (makes you feel sleepy),
- GABA (makes you feel calm),
- Dopamine (feel good), serotonin (feel good), and
- Short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) such as butyrate which have an anti inflammatory effect on your body.
These metabolites can interact with the previously mentioned gut brain signaling pathways and influence your health and well-being.
Best Probiotics for Sleep
The best probiotics that help you sleep are ones that are targeted to boost the resilience of the microbiome. Diverse gut health leads to a strong immune response. By keeping your body's systems strong, you'll manage stress easier and sleep better.
Research shows a robust immune system leads to a lowered stress response.
Adding a probiotic to your daily routine that strengthens the digestive system and reduces inflammation may lead to increased energy. Keeping energy levels optimized during daytime hours will prevent those feelings of sluggishness and fatigue.
Our Simple Slumber probiotic was designed to help the body produce metabolites that promote sleep and relaxation, reduce inflammation and decrease the pathogen load. Together, these six bacteria form a stable, sustainable bacterial community, and help restore a healthy gut microbiome and more importantly, promote healthy and sound sleep.
Here are the unique strains that differentiate Simple Slumber:
Bacillus subtilis (DE111 ® ): shown to promote a healthy microbiome for enhanced Immune function, as well as disease control through the production of bacteriocins. It also helps maintain healthy levels of antioxidants and metabolites that promote sleep.
Bifidobacterium longum: shown to improve sleep and mood quality in humans, especially during periods of stress. This is accomplished by the production of metabolites that restore gut health, reduce oxidative stress, and stimulate the sleep centers of the brain for restful sleep.
Lactobacillus plantarum (TBC0036™): shown through genetic analysis that this organism produces metabolites that have been shown to promote a good sleep quality by expanding the blood vessels, thus, increasing blood flow and the flux of sleep-inducing hormones as well as the production of melatonin. It also metabolizes fiber and other carbohydrates to produce anti-inflammatory substances.
Lactobacillus acidophilus (DDS ® 1): helps reduce sleep-perturbation markers of stress and inflammation, thus, reducing circadian disruption and promoting sleep. As a member of the formulation, it persists in the gut and promotes long term stabilization of the sleep cycle.
Lactobacillus casei: improves sleep under psychological stress, primarily by reducing anxiety and helping to stabilize a healthy gut microbiome. Synergistically with other bacteria in this formulation, it helps in the production of serotonin, melatonin and antioxidants.
Leuconostoc mesenteroides (TBC0037™): the principal converter of sugars into mannitol and produces anti-inflammatory substances, protects the lining of the gut and makes vitamin B12. B12 keeps nerves and blood cells healthy and helps with normal, healthy sleep. This strain of Leuconostoc mesenteroides produces melatonin, a key metabolite controlling the sleep cycle as well as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances that counteract the adverse effects of stress.
Sleep, prebiotics, and your gut
It’s easy to lose sleep over the many stresses in your life. And it may seem equally daunting to lie in bed and hope to get sufficient sleep. If you’ve struggled to improve your stress resilience and sleep, you should consider giving prebiotics and probiotics a chance.
According to a University of Colorado Boulder research published in Scientific Reports, a prebiotic diet can potentially help you get some well-deserved rest.
Senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Monika Fleshner, director of the Stress Physiology Laboratory, says, "Our results reveal novel signals that come from gut microbes that may modulate stress physiology and sleep."
In this study, Fleshner and team found that adolescent male rats on a prebiotic diet spent more time in NREM sleep and showed increased stress robustness compared to the control group rats eating a standard chow diet.
The gut bacteria of rats fed a prebiotic diet produced more metabolites, such as fatty acids and steroids that may positively influence the brain. They also showed a lack of sleep-disrupting spikes due to stress, and maintained their body's natural temperature fluctuations compared to rats fed the standard chow.
A diet rich in prebiotics or supplemental probiotics with prebiotics included can potentially boost stress resilience and improve rapid eye movement (REM), and restorative non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep through metabolic activity (potent biologically active molecules).
Your gut health is positively related to total sleep time, sleep efficiency, and a lack of broken sleep.
Probiotics such as Simple Slumber have specific probiotic strains that can potentially help you improve sleep:
- L. mesenteroides convert simple sugars into mannitol, a prebiotic. Mannitol can be further converted into SCFAs — butyrate and propionate –- anti-inflammatory metabolites.
- B. longum can potentially improve mood and sleep duration.
- B. plantarum is associated with improved mood, sleep, and duration.
- L. casei, L. acidophilus, and B subtilis have been associated with maintaining healthy levels of metabolites that improve your body’s stress response.
Prebiotics and probiotics have been shown to have a multilayered effect on our physical and mental well-being. Whether you go the prebiotic and probiotic natural food route or choose a supplement with prebiotics to try to improve sleep, remember that it takes a while and consistency to feel the impact of an improved and healthier gut on your sleep and mood.
Want to add a great recipe for probiotic yogurt to your gut health repertoire? Check out this super gut probiotic yogurt recipe!
You Deserve a Restful Sleep
Your body runs on a 24-hour clock known as the circadian rhythm. Body processes and your gut bacteria anticipate and prepare for changes in your natural environment.
Whether the sun is up or it's dark out, your body expects to run through a set course of time-appropriate actions depending on where it is in its sleep-wake cycle.
These actions involve digestion, nutrient absorption, excretion, repair, regeneration, etc. Your health and sleep quality depend on how well your circadian rhythm matches natural day and night.
Light exposure and mealtimes are important triggers that help your body align with day and night. In a healthy environment, your gut follows this clock and responds by producing metabolites that strengthen your immune system and brain functions.
In contrast, a compromised gut microbiome may negatively affect your stress response, weaken your immunity, cause inflammation and disrupt your circadian rhythm.
Gut Health and Trouble Sleeping
Just as the health of your microbiome can affect the quality of your sleep, your sleep can affect your gut health. It works both ways. Let’s take a look at recent research on some specific sleep conditions that have been shown to affect the gut.
Sleep Apnea and Gut Health
Obstructive sleep apnea is a respiratory disorder in which people experience either a partial or full collapse of the upper airway during sleep, and can make it hard to breathe. It has been linked to gut health, as it reduces the amount of oxygen you are getting while sleeping. Reduced oxygen can result in something called dysbiosis, or a disruption in the normal, healthy gut flora.
Gut dysbiosis can lead to low-grade chronic inflammation in the intestines and symptoms such as nausea, bad breath, bloating, constipation and fatigue. It can also cause anxiety and depression, which can compound your sleep troubles.
Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome and Gut Health
Delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS), a disorder in which a person's sleep is delayed by two or more hours and can cause difficulty in waking up at the desired time, is a newly defined research area in the last decade. Links between delayed sleep phase syndrome and gut health haven't been fully explored, due to the newness of this research field. However early studies have suggested DSPS and other circadian rhythm disorders might be influenced by gut dysbiosis. Your circadian rhythm is your sleep-wake pattern over the course of a 24-hour day, and helps control your daily schedule for sleep and wakefulness. Much of the early research on circadian rhythm disorders has been done related to shift workers who lead a disrupted sleep-wake cycle from the normal day-night cycle. It makes sense that people who are shift workers, or travel often across time zones and experience jet lag for example, could have gut dysbiosis.
How to Improve Gut Health for Better Sleep
If you have recurrent sleep issues, perhaps you feel powerless to fix them. Maybe you've tried some over-the-counter sleep aids or a variety of hacks. If your sleep still hasn’t improved though, it might be time to look at your microbiome.
Dr. Stasha Gominak has done extensive research on sleep and how it is affected by our intestinal bacteria. As she explains, the same healthy bacterial species (Actinobacteria, Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes and Proteobacteria) are found in every human with a healthy gut, because each of them makes at least one B vitamin and needs other B vitamins that the others make and share. They work together. However, when these B vitamins don’t receive vitamin D (when we get less sunlight), they’re replaced by bacteria that don’t need vitamin D, which can cause problems with our digestion, immune system, and yes, sleep. Vitamin D supplements are not the same as the Vitamin D we create when we are exposed to sunshine.
One simple and important approach to helping reset your natural circadian rhythms is to schedule 15-20 minutes each morning as the sun is rising and again as it is setting each day. These light signals on our skin and in our eyes are critical to the production of vitamin D and to the signaling to our brain for the light and dark sleep cycle cues.
Restoring the natural production of B vitamins in your gut can take many months. You can support this process in several ways. First consider supplementing with B vitamins, B12 and thiamine in particular, since the western diet is generally high in processed foods that are devoid of living organisms that can produce these vitamins. Add a quality probiotic with strains that are known to produce the B vitamins (like our formulas!). Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species found in fermented foods and probiotics are the key suppliers of B vitamins in our gut. These species are depleted by the modern Western diet and our continuous exposure to herbicide and pesticide residues in our foods.
Gut Health and Sleep Pattern
In addition to addressing vitamin B and vitamin D deficiencies, there are other factors to consider for improving your gut health, and thus your sleep, Fasting, dietary changes, and supplementing with probiotics and melatonin and also help.
Recent research suggests that routine fasting may support better sleep, which makes sense since the timing of meals can affect your circadian clock. Think about a time you perhaps ate dinner too late, and lay awake at bedtime feeling uncomfortable and restless. Ideally you want to eat your last meal of the day a minimum of two hours before you plan to go to bed. Intermittent fasting is the practice of limiting the window of hours that you are eating to 6, 8 or 10 hour windows, allowing your body to rest and digest for a longer portion of the 24 -hour day. By intermittent fasting and eating earlier in the day, your body can work with your circadian rhythm, giving your cells more time to repair and restore overnight.
Fasting has also been shown to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, which reduce circadian disruption and promote sound sleep.
While many factors contribute to a sound night's sleep, adding probiotics for sleep to your routine may help you achieve deep rest. The best probiotic for optimizing your circadian rhythm is one that increases melatonin and serotonin production, supports your immune system, and benefits your overall health.
If you’re looking for a probiotic to support sound sleep, be sure to check out our new Simple Slumber formula. It will only be available for a limited time!
Martha Carlin, is a “Citizen Scientist”, systems thinker, wife of Parkinson’s warrior, John Carlin, and founder of The BioCollective , a microbiome company expanding the reach of science and BiotiQuest, the first of it’s kind probiotic line. Since John’s diagnosis in 2002, Martha began learning the science of agriculture, nutrition, environment, infectious disease, Parkinson’s pathology and much more. In 2014, when the first research was published showing a connection between the gut bacteria and the two phenotypes of Parkinson’s, Martha quit her former career as a business turnaround expert and founded The BioCollective to accelerate the discovery of the impact of gut health on all human disease. Martha was a speaker at the White House 2016 Microbiome Initiative launch, challenging the scientific community to “think in a broader context”. Her systems thinking background and experience has led to collaborations across the scientific spectrum from neuroscience to engineering to infectious disease. She is a respected out of the box problem solver in the microbiome field and brings a unique perspective to helping others understand the connections from the soil to the food to our guts and our brains.
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