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21 Sep 2018

The Gut-Sleep Connection

There is nothing quite like the feeling of a waking up after a good night of sleep and feeling refreshed and ready to face the day. Sadly a large part of the population suffer from insomnia and this can include difficulty falling asleep, struggling to stay asleep and inability to get refreshing sleep. New research is showing that the solution to improved sleep may lie in the gut with the billions of bacteria that live there.

Our body contains more bacterial cells than it does human cells, and these beneficial bacteria have many functions including synthesising nutrients and communicating with the brain via the vagus nerve which extends from the brainstem to the stomach. Scientists are now finding that the gut microbiome may affect sleep in various ways.

The beneficial gut bacteria may help to promote sleep by encouraging us to feel happier and more relaxed. This is because they produce dopamine and serotonin which are the neurotransmitters involved in mood, as well as the amino acid GABA which is calming and encourages restorative sleep.

The gut bacteria can also help us to maintain our sleep-wake cycle as they increase the blood levels of tryptophan, an amino acid that is a precursor to the sleep hormone melatonin

You can nurture your gut microbiome by following these lifestyle and dietary tips:
  • Take a daily probiotic to replenish and maintain the healthy bacteria in your gut.
  • Prebiotics are a form of dietary fiber that feed the beneficial bacteria and allow them to thrive. Consume prebiotics in your diet through bananas, apples, oats, asparagus, artichokes, honey or a prebiotic supplement.
  • Avoid or decrease exposure to factors that may destroy the good bacteria in the gut, like antibiotics, stress, refined sugar and processed foods, pollution, pesticides and antimicrobial soap.
  • Make time to exercise 4 times a week as research shows that people who exercise regularly have more diverse populations of gut bacteria and exercise may increase the amount of healthy gut bacteria by 40%.