Sleep is essential to our survival! The quality and amount of sleep we are getting, or not getting, impacts nearly every aspect of our lives. Sleep plays a role in disease prevention, mental health, weight loss, athletic performance, and cognitive functions. We all want more and better sleep, but how? New research may have an answer, and it is not pillows. 

It may surprise you, but the gut microbiome, sometimes referred to as our second brain plays a role in getting the rest you need to be at your best. The Microbiome is a collection of trillions of bacteria and fungi, in the intestines. It is sometimes referred to as the second brain because it is responsible for helping the brain and nervous system to regulate immune systems functions, hormone productions, and mood.

The microbiome is responsible for producing many of the hormones that impact sleep. These hormones include dopamine, serotonin, GABA, and melatonin.

Scientists have long believed that there was a relationship between sleep and the microbiome but until recently the research had conflicting results. Over the past five years, scientists from the United States and around the globe have identified the impact that the microbiome has on sleep. It is still unclear whether poor sleep impacts microbiome health or microbiome health impacts sleep. One thing is sure, we have the power to improve microbiome health which we hope will help you to sleep better. 

Erika W. Hagen, Ph.D., along with several of her University of Wisconsin survey 482 adults and found that the quality of sleep quality and feeling less tired are related to a healthy and diverse gut microbiota. In 2016, Swedish and German researchers studied a small group of healthy men and found that after two nights of sleep deprivation these men experienced:

  • A decrease in healthy gut bacteria
  • Changes in the gut microorganisms that are linked to Type 2 Diabetes
  • A decrease in insulin sensitivity

It is unclear whether the gut microbiome has an impact on sleep quality or is impacted by sleep, but what steps can we take to improve both the health of our microbiome and the quality of sleep. Japanese researchers can provide us with some insights into this question. These researchers studied students preparing for an exam who took a probiotic. For eight weeks while preparing for an exam some of these students took Lactobacillus Casei strain Shirota, while other students took a placebo. These researchers found that the students who took the probiotics:

  • Had an easier time falling asleep
  • Improved sleep patterns, including slow-wave sleep
  • Felt more rested and refreshed when they woke up

Taking probiotics is just one step towards improving sleep and gut microbiome health. I also recommend eating fruits and vegetables and daily exercise.