There is growing research on sleep patterns and the microbiota-gut-brain axis. Experts say that the relationship between the gut and sleep is circular; gut microbiome can affect sleep and poor sleep can affect the gut.
According to a review article published in the journal, Sleep Medicine Reviews, sleep deprivation leads to dysfunction of the gut microbiota and sleep disorders are accompanied by altered gut microbiota composition.
Poor gut health can lead to poor sleep and vice versa, says Dr Vishal Rao, group director-head and neck surgical oncology and robotic surgery, HCG Cancer Centre, Bengaluru. Sleep deprivation can also cause gut microbiome imbalances which could even affect the immune system, he adds.
Beauty in diversity: better gut, better sleep
In 2019, a group of researchers from the US published a research paper on how gut microbiome diversity is linked to sleep. This study finds the association between sleep physiology and microbiome composition.
The study was conducted to examine the associations between sleep, the immune system and measures of cognition and emotion. The results suggest that diversity of the gut microbiome promotes healthier sleep.
“In a human body, there are 32,000 genes and 2 crores genes in the gut [genes from the bacteria],” says Dr Rao. He adds that the genes in the rest of the body can be affected by the genes in the gut because of their abundance. “This is the reason why there is so much research to determine the relationship between the gut-brain-axis and sleep.”
Does gut health improve at night?
A good night’s sleep is essential for a healthy gut, opine experts. Dr Aditya Naragund, director of gastro sciences and soft tissue robotic surgeon at AASRA hospitals, Bengaluru, says that the gut and the brain are connected in three ways:
- Through the vagus nerves, directly
- Through chemical mergers like serotonin, etc.
- Through the gut microbiome (bacteria and other organisms in the intestine)
“During sleep, the intestinal motility reduces giving it [the intestine] much-needed rest. There is a healing process which occurs during this time. The mucus [inner lining] of the intestine is constantly exposed to toxins and harmful bacteria through food intake. The lining gets damaged in the process and needs to heal which happens during sleep,” points out Dr Naragund.
Impact of sleep deprivation on gut health
Sleep deprivation can have direct and indirect impacts on health:
- Stress and anxiety could lead to dyspepsia (indigestion). There could be symptoms like acid reflux, bloating, increased bowel movement and constipation.
- Sleep-deprived people are more prone to developing diabetes mellitus and obesity. These can cause associated gut disturbances.
- “Gut microbiome is disrupted [because of the lack of sleep] leading to increased harmful bacteria. There is increased production of harmful inflammatory chemicals like interleukin 6 which can cause direct damage to the intestine,” says Dr Naragund. “There is also increased incidence of inflammatory bowel disease in sleep-deprived people.”
- Late night sleeping could cause binge eating and eating at odd hours which could lead to poor gut health.
Tips to improve sleep
- Stick to a timeline. Try to sleep at the same time every night. Give a gap of an hour or two between the last meal and sleep.
- Avoid having stimulants (tea, coffee and chocolate) at night.
- Limit your screen time. No mobile phone in bed.
- Seek help if you have anxiety issues.
- Yoghurt/probiotics have a beneficial effect on gut microbiome.
- Try and get a minimum of six to seven hours of sleep.
- Avoid high-sugar, oily, fatty and high-protein food at night.