How many times have we heard the words ‘gut health’, ‘probiotics’, and even ‘microbiome’ in the last couple of years? Well, we’ve heard plenty and we know how important it is to our health and happiness overall. But recently we’ve seen some research about how our microbiome can have massive impacts on our sleep. We all know how important sleep is to our health, both physical and mental.
In case you’re new to the world of gut health, let’s back up a bit. Microbiome refers to the vast congregation of bacteria or micro-organisms that colonise our intestines. When you think of the word ‘bacteria’ (especially in 2020), you might think germs and grubbiness, but there is good bacteria, and we covet it! Establishing a good ecosystem for these bacterias inside our bodies is crucial for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients, for starters, but there are about a million other benefits such as:
- Reduced risk of disease
- Increased metabolism and immune system
- Boosted cardiovascular and circulatory health
- Reduced inflammation, especially for digestive issues and symptoms of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
- Better stress response
- Regulated hormone production
Sleep is specifically impacted by gut health because our gastrointestinal tract is always communicating with our brains and our central nervous systems. Actually, people are now calling it our second brain. How’s that for important?!
In the last few years, studies have deduced that light and dark (day and night) directly affects not only the way that our internal clock mechanism (known as our circadian rhythm) responds and produces hormones, but also the pattern and function of our gut microbes. When we aren’t getting enough sleep, or sleeping at the wrong times, or experiencing sleep disturbances, our intestinal flora and fauna suffer and forget how to work effectively. We start to experience fluctuating hormones which includes our hunger hormones (ghrelin) and our fullness and satiety hormones (leptin), causing cravings for bad foods and overeating. It’s proven that when we’re tired we are far more likely to give in to cravings and overeat, but this just excels the cycle as it promotes the bad bacteria and starves the good bacteria.
That’s just one of the ways that gut health affects your sleep and, along with it, your mental health. In a more sciencey respect, achieving homeostasis (or, a healthy balance) of your microbiome regulates production and traffic of some of the most important neurotransmitters (chemical messengers that communicate signals amongst the body and brain):
- Cortisol – a steroid hormone which is produced in the adrenal glands which are located on top of our kidneys. Cortisol affects the way your body responds to stress and danger, as well as your metabolism and immune responses. Cortisol levels can be lowered with proper sleep, exercise, and healthy eating.
- Tryptophan – an amino acid (protein component) that is necessary for growth and production of serotonin, a hormone which promotes sleep and mood stability. Tryptophan can be found in seeds and nuts, meats, cheese, oats, and legumes.
- Serotonin – often called ‘the happy chemical’, found in the brain and bowels. Proper serotonin production is an important part of the treatment of depression; some of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants are SSRIs – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors – because serotonin boosts mood and brain function.
So the burning question: how do we achieve this gastrointestinal homeostasis and improve our sleep and overall wellbeing? As a general rule, it’s important to eat healthily. Specifically, probiotics and prebiotic foods, which feed and nourish your good bacteria. We use plenty of these foods in our menu – if you want to up your intake, try some of these!
- Garlic (we looooooove garlic)