Eating right provides the gateway to restful, satisfying sleep.
Story: Dr. Bill Miller
Who hasn’t had a restless night’s sleep? Everyone does on occasion, but for many, it is an increasingly frequent experience. The typical explanation is the unparalleled distractions of our modern lifestyle.
We email compulsively, text our friends at all hours, and binge-watch TV. Consequently, our sleep suffers. Studies during the past 60 years indicate the average amount of sleep Americans get has fallen by one to two hours per night. Furthermore, the quality of that sleep has deteriorated. Some research even suggests these irregular sleep patterns have led to a “dream” deficit that takes its own toll over time.
The crux of the issue is there are significant health problems associated with sleep disorders that go beyond feeling tired the next day. Chronic sleep deprivation is associated with higher incidences of heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and cancer. Many of us realize this and struggle to adjust. We experiment with changing caffeine or alcohol intake or, in desperation, some turn to sleeping pills.
Most of us know from experience there is a link between food intake and sleep patterns. Sleep can be difficult if we are too full or extremely hungry. Yet, busy lifestyle and the temptations of snack foods continuously get in the way. One thing is clear: a good evening meal with sensible portions improves the prospect of a restful night of sleep. We have long known there are two fundamental states of sleep and each is regulated by a different part of the brain. Both are necessary for completely recuperative sleep.
We have a sleep cycle, called our “circadian rhythm,” which is regulated by the brain and metabolic cues governed by liver cells. All of these signals work together in a continuous feedback loop commonly called our “circadian clock.”
New information adds a significant factor to that mix. Our gut microbiome has a surprisingly crucial influence on our circadian sleep/wake cycle and sleep quality. Experiments confirm that when specific microbes in the gut are altered, our fundamental states of sleep are disrupted. This limits our ability to recover from stress and hinders necessary protection against neurological diseases such as dementia. To assist in that recovery process, we now understand that gut microbiome and our cells form an active feedback loop and sleep patterns are part of it.
This continuous feedback between our gut and brain significantly modulates our responses to stress. When that feedback is suboptimal, it begins a cycle leading toward metabolic health disorders such as diabetes. Our sleep-wake cycle is part of this loop. Impaired sleep disrupts our metabolism and contributes to inflammatory states and metabolic diseases, which can, in turn, further disrupt sleep.
When our gut microbiome is off-balance, the capacity to achieve restorative sleep is profoundly affected. When you plan to get a good night’s sleep, you need to think of it as putting your microbes to bed. Feeding them properly is your best chance for normal recuperative sleep amid our hectic modern lives.
Here are four tips to start you on the path to a great night’s sleep:
- Our microbes have internal clocks, just as we do. We are at our best when we find the optimal personal method of synchronizing and adjusting to each other. In effect, if you feed your microbes well, they will treat you right.
- Stick to a firm eating schedule and limit fat content. Both of these factors can improve sleep quality. There is an added benefit. These measures help with weight management, which is also mediated by the gut microbiome.
- Keep calories the same, but make your meals smaller and more frequent. Studies show this improves sleep quality and metabolic parameters such as blood glucose or serum lipid levels.
- Try adding either prebiotics or probiotics to your diet. These offer your microbial partners the nutrients they need.