We all know that the benefits of a good night sleep are unparalleled — improved general health, higher performance on cognitive tasks, improved immune function, improved mood, improved energy, and many more. However, many struggle to get in their recommended 6-8 hours of sleep per night, and either soldier on in a less than optimal state or reach for coffee and pills to combat their fatigue. But what if instead of reaching for a prescription medication or stimulant, we could optimize our gut microbiome?
It is becoming even more obvious that the gut has a strong connection with our minds. Whether it be related to mood, mental health, or stress, our gut microbiome has the power to strongly influence many aspects of our health. The gut is sometimes called the second brain for this very reason, in that it can influence health through the gut-brain-microbiome axis. But what is the connection between our microbiome and sleep?
A diverse gut microbiome is correlated with many positive health benefits — but we are seeing new evidence around the connection of a healthy microbiome and sleep. Recently, increasing studies — such as this report published in The Cell Journal — have found that in addition to the mental health correlation, the quality of your gut health can very much influence the quality of your sleep.
Specifically, it is the diversity of the bacteria in the gut microbiome that has a direct correlation with a good night’s sleep. There are between 300-500 different types of bacteria in the human microbiome at any given time, and when it comes to a healthy gut, the more diverse the better.
Each bacteria in the gut affects the body differently, so the effect the gut bacteria has on sleep is tied to a few specific species.
A recent study concluded that a gut microbiome containing a high proportion of bacteria from the Verrucomicrobia and Lentisphaerae phyla was associated with higher sleep quality, as well as improved performance on cognitive tasks. The Actinobacteria contributes to less time awake at night, and higher quality of sleep. Bacteroidetes and Firmicuttes, also showed a positive correlation with sleep efficiency and have also been shown to help regulate food intake and circadian rhythm — your body’s own internal clock that aids in hormone regulation and acts as the mechanic that tells your body when to sleep and wake up. Another study on gut microbiome bacteria types and their role in mental-health related issues showed that those who reported poor sleep quality actually had a less diverse microbiome.
Inversely, stress levels can exacerbate poor sleep quality and in turn affect the microbiome. The gut microbiome is incredibly sensitive, and can be altered quickly depending on a variety of factors. Recent studies in humans have shown that partial sleep deprivation can alter the gut microbiome composition in just as little as 48 hours.
Although there is some exciting data, the studies are preliminary, and there is still more research to be done surrounding this correlation. Yet these initial studies hold promise for improved sleep by manipulating the gut microbiome. Ultimately, this could lead to tailored probiotics containing specific strains to target those with sleep issues and help millions overcome sleep deprivation.
Ali Parsons graduated from The University of Washington with a degree in Media & Communications. She is passionate about nutrition, health, and wellness and is currently in the process of becoming a Registered Dietitian. Ali enjoys cooking, running, yoga, hiking and travel!