You’ve heard it in the news and you’ve heard it online – getting more sleep is one of the hottest health trends being talked about. Although making sure you stick to a healthy sleep schedule and aim for 8 hours a day is more than just your typical health “craze”, there is a lot more to managing your night-time routine.
Scientists consider sleeping an essential process for rest and repair. At night, we close our eyes and drift off to sleep, allowing our subconscious to take over. During this time, our brains undergo significant threat assessment over the stress of the day and focus efforts on healing and energy restoration. Additionally, sleep helps boost your immune system and fight off infection. You might think of sleep as a peaceful activity, but it’s actually quite an active time – complete with building and repairing and information retention.
From Eyes Shut to Wide Awake
When you cut down on your sleep, your natural repair mechanisms are compromised. However, the most common issues with sleep aren’t usually by choice. In truth, nearly 168 million people in the United States are estimated to struggle with sleep at least once a week. That’s over two-thirds of the nation!
If you’re one of them, sleep can seem more than elusive – it can seem outright impossible.
There are a lot of ways you can improve your chances of falling asleep. Practicing breathing techniques - much like in meditation - can help reduce circulating levels of cortisol – the stress hormone. Taking warm showers can also help relax tense muscles from a stressful day. You can also avoid using electronics that use blue light, shown to stimulate signals in your body that keep you awake longer, or try natural sleep aids like magnesium. These ways, and many others, can help you adjust your nighttime routine to embrace a better mental and physical state for rest – but if you’ve tried your fair share evening pick-me-ups, or rather “settle-downs,” and still find sleep far on the horizon, there might be something else keeping you from becoming one with your bed.
Could Your Gut Microbes Be Keeping You Up at Night?
Your gut microbes have their fingers involved in a variety of physiological processes within your body. Their interaction with your hormones, their relationship with your brain activity, and their strong influence over your immune system all play a part in how you respond to evening cues.
Normally, when the sun sets, the lack of sunlight interacts with biological changes that affect our circadian rhythm. This biological clock mechanism dictates when we feel tired and impacts how easily we wake up. Although most of the responses are fairly stable over time, we often make changes that can influence or even interrupt certain signals. For example, every day during the week you might use your morning alarm to wake you up on time to start your day – but come the weekend you shut it off, looking forward to sleeping in on Saturday morning! Except, when Saturday does come, you arise wide awake at your typical 7am time.
Just as you can influence your waking routine, scientists have determined poor night-time practices and poor diet can change your gut flora and impact your risk of insomnia. Through some inspiring research, there are several theories on how your gut microbes might be calling the shots. However, researchers agree, these three are most likely to blame:
1. The Gut-Brain Axis
The connection between our brain and our digestive system is a complex system connected by the vagus nerve. Consequently, key signals can be passed between these two - like when we are hungry, stressed, or even our emotional state. Recently, scientists have determined there’s more communicating than just the two organs. In fact, our gut microbes are also on the call and can change these signals for the better – or for the worse. You see, the same nerves that regulate our digestion and motility also stimulate how quickly our heart beats and our mood. If the gut microbiome shows signs of gut dysbiosis, leading to leaky gut syndrome, it’s possible neuroinflammatory metabolites may be traveling up the vagus nerve and penetrating the brain. These metabolites have been shown to influence our stress response, impacting our heart rate and disrupting sleep structure patterns.
2. Hormone Regulation:
Many gut microbes also produce normal compounds that use this pathway to travel to our brains. Studies implicating the relationship of our gut microbes and mood disorders have shown this to be the case, as many microbes within our gut microbiome produce serotonin, a key biochemical that regulates our mood. Serotonin is also a precursor for melatonin, another hormone essential to our light-dark cycle that eases us to sleep. If the gut microbiome isn’t producing it’s fair share of serotonin, this hormone flow may cease to a trickle and change standard sleep patterns. This theory has also been supported by the number of patients suffering from mood disorders like depression, reporting additional issues with sleep.
3. Immune System:
Scientists say our gut houses upwards of 70% of our immune system. When we’re at our optimal health, this “immune organ” works in peak performance like an efficient fighting machine. However, when our body is under long-term assault from toxic substances, invading bacteria, or injury, our immune system can interrupt normal processes and change how well we regulate our sleep cycle. When the gut ecosystem becomes imbalanced, it can cause an immune reaction that permeates through the digestive lining and penetrates peripheral tissues. If this immune response reaches organs such as the lungs, the inflammatory response can impact breathing at night and increase the likelihood of disorders like sleep apnea.
Although researchers are uncovering the complex interactions between our gut microbiome and our sleep, the full implications of their relationship are still not fully understood. What scientists have shown, is that the health of our gut is intricately tied to the health of many other systems. By stabilizing your gut ecosystem and reducing instances of chronic inflammation, you might notice changes in your nightly routine. One thing we know for sure: whatever your sleep routine is, you deserve to function at your best! Start with what you can control and see what Viome’s Gut Intelligence Test can do for you (don't miss our limited-time holiday offer!). By taking a more personalized approach to your diet, your results might be more than just your waistline – it might mean a more restful sleep.
*The information on the Viome website is provided for informational purposes only and with the understanding that Viome is not engaged in rendering medical advice or recommendations. Viome is providing this educational information to share the exciting developments being reported in the scientific literature about the human microbiome and your health. Viome products are not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease.