Gut Health & Insomnia: Yes, They’re Connected!

  • by Michelle B.
  • 3 Novemver 2017

Gut Health & Insomnia: Yes, They’re Connected!

As busy parents and professionals, we tend to try a lot of crazy stuff to give us the energy we need to survive the day. Whether your go-to “work around” is refilling your coffee cup every hour or drinking a sugary energy drink as your afternoon pick-me-up, these fixes don’t go to the source of the problem.

Then, when bedtime finally arrives after a hectic day, you would think you could just conk out from being exhausted all day…right?

Unfortunately, for many that’s simply not the case. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep. And, although there are many reasons for not being well rested, one common reason is insomnia—you just can’t sleep!

If you are one of the many who struggle with falling asleep each night, your gut may be to blame. Here’s why…

Why Your Gut Balance May Be “Off”

The gut microbiome (your “mini-ecosystem”) is a majestic and complicated environment. Its key responsibility is balance—balance for your gut, for your immune system, for your mood, and more.

Unfortunately, there are many things that can cause that balance to be “off”, including antibiotics, drugs like aspirin, antibacterial soaps, douching, consuming artificially colored foods, eating too much sugar, and stress. And, all of this can affect your sleep.

But, How Are Gut Health & Sleep Connected?

Also referred to as the “second brain,” your gut is the only organ in the body that has its own nervous system, called the enteric nervous system (ENS). Lining your digestive system (from your esophagus to your rectum), your ENS consists of more than 100 million nerve cells which are in charge of your microbiome.

What’s so cool about your ENS is that it can function independently from the brain by transmitting emotional signals right to your central nervous system (aka the spinal cord and the brain). That means your tummy irritation and poor gut health can trigger a mood change such as anxiety, stress, and even depression.

But, the connection goes both ways! Your brain can also directly affect your gut. So, if you’re emotionally anxious, this may lead to an upset stomach—making you feel emotionally and physically worse. Some even notice that anxiety and depression can lead to Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Stress can even affect peristaltic movement (how your food gets moved through your system), which can lead to inflammation and possibly infection—and obviously no one wants that. Several studies on those with poor gut health have found that therapy to reduce stress can make a direct impact on improving gut health. Who knew that simply reducing your stress could do so much?

No matter which direction you’re sending these signals (gut to brain or brain to gut), all the stress, mood swings, and painful bowel symptoms you feel in your gut can result in a sleepless, uncomfortable night of anxious tossing and turning.

So, What Can Improve Your Gut Health & Sleep?

Answer: Good bacteria.

As you might already know, your gut is full of bacteria—both good and bad—fighting for a place in your digestive tract. Depending on your lifestyle and environment, the “bad” guys can take over. That’s why it’s so important to promote “good” bacteria in the gut.

Since there are a number of hormones that are regulated by the intestines (including dopamine, serotonin, and GABA), the beneficial bacteria in your gut can help regulate these hormones, all of which help to regulate mood and promote good sleep.

Plus, with the good guys in your gut, you’ll experience less bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation—painful culprits that keep you awake.

How Probiotics Can Help Improve Sleep

Promoting the good guys in your gut is actually pretty simple! In addition to following a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise, taking a good probiotic supplement daily will increase the beneficial bacteria in your gut—helping to improve your sleep.

But, don’t forget to take care of your probiotics too! These good guys need fuel to do their job—that’s where prebiotics come in. Known as “food” for your probiotics, prebiotics can help increase the growth and colonization of beneficial gut flora. Eating prebiotic- and probiotic-rich foods is a great way to promote good gut health—or you can look for a probiotic supplement that includes them both.

Find out more about how probiotics work, their benefits, and which type of probiotics you should take here.

About the Author

About the Author

Passionate writer and dog lover, Michelle continues to do crazy amounts of research and ask tons of questions to understand this health and wellness “thing.” She’s here to help break it down for you because health is a journey—and it’s better to do it with others.

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