They say the stomach is like a second brain, thanks to a lesserknown mini nervous system in the gut, so it stands to reason that not getting enough sleep will have a negative influence on our gastro health. And – like any relationship – it’s a two-way street, so on the flipside poor digestion can adversely affect the quality of our slumber. While the odd restless night is not a problem, a chronic sleep debt can play havoc with our gut health in the long term. To help us dodge this dysfunctional partnership we gleaned advice from Eve Kalinik, nutritional therapist and gut health specialist for KÄLLA probiotics.
First thing’s first, don’t forget staying hydrated is important for healthy digestion, as dehydration alone can lead to constipation or slower motility through the gut and result in an uncomfortable and restless night. Also include plenty of colour and diversity in your diet, with vegetables and fruits, as well as whole grains, nuts and seeds. These all provide brilliant sources of fibre and polyphenols (special plant chemicals), which are crucial ‘food’ for our gut microbiome. The more varied our intake of these, the more we can support a healthier and stronger gut and harness a better gut-sleep relationship. An imbalance in our gut bacteria can lead to stress and anxiety, which over time can affect our memory, mood, immune system, and sleep. Try eating live yoghurt, cheese, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha or kefir, which all provide sources of beneficial probiotic bacteria to support our gut health. Research shows that taking a probiotic can also support and nourish the gutbrain connection and have a favourable impact on our sleep. Swedish probiotic KÄLLA FOR REPAIR (£49.99 for 30 sachets, kalla.com/gb) has been clinically proven to lower inflammation in the gut and contains live bacteria to help relieve the symptoms of damage to the body caused by long term stress.
It’s also important to embrace rest and allow your body time to digest, which means taking time over meals to chew your food thoroughly. This can help to alleviate some of the most common gut symptoms such as indigestion, excessive gas and bloating. Daily mindfulness, such as meditation, gentle yoga or breathing exercises are vital to help support the gut-brain connection, which is incredibly powerful and bi-directional. It is the cumulative effects that have the biggest impact.
Move your body
Not doing enough exercise and sitting for long periods can also have a negative impact on the way we sleep and our gut health. We don’t necessarily need to be working out to the point of exhaustion, but regular movement helps us feel physically tired and therefore supports sleep. It’s best to avoid high intensity exercise late into the evening, which can spike cortisol, but walking in natural light first thing in the morning is great as it can help to support your circadian rhythm.
Time it well
The circadian rhythm manages biochemical processes over a 24-hour period, as well as helping to regulate our sleep-wake cycle. Our gut microbiome has its own daily rhythms that work harmoniously with our circadian rhythms, so one has the capacity to alter and disturb the other. Time Restricted Eating (TRE) has been positively associated with supporting our circadian rhythms. Ideally, we want to aim for a 12- to 15-hour period of not eating or drinking anything other than water. So, from 8pm to 8am you may fast overnight. This allows our systems to perform the crucial process of cleaning up and clearing out rather than breaking down food, and helps to cultivate a rhythm and routine to our gut-sleep cycle. Eating at random times can put our circadian rhythm out of sync, which can impact on our gut, metabolism and also affects appetite and food choices. A lack of sleep has been found to trigger increased levels of ghrelin, our hunger hormone, and decreased levels of leptin which is the hormone that tells us when we are full. This can lead to skewed appetite responses and overeating which may then feedback into a pattern of eating at random times.
When our biological beat is off-kilter, combined with the resulting build-up of sleep deprivation, it means we’re more likely to experience digestive discomfort, get ill more often, and be more prone to a low mood. Our gut is often referred to as our second brain as it is in constant communication with both the brain and the central nervous system, helping to regulate many processes in the body, including our sleep. A key element of the gut-sleep connection to consider is the influence of our gut microbiome on our mood and emotional wellbeing. This includes the relationship between sleep and mood disorders – such as stress, anxiety and depression – as poor sleep can often trigger these symptoms.
Mindful breathing or meditation practices can support the gut-brain connection and help us to manage the stressors in our life that might be contributing to a restless night sleep. We can’t always change some of these stressful factors, but we can cultivate a mindset that is better equipped to deal with them. Journaling just before bed can be a really useful tool to help prevent our thoughts from going round in our heads. Remember blue light exposure messes with our melatonin levels and affects the ebb and flow of our sleep-wake cycle, so put a curfew on all digital devices around one hour before you want to go to sleep and shut them down. Even better, try to take them out of the bedroom altogether.