You fall asleep but wake up a few hours later, restless and miserable. It’s impossible to nod off again, and you lie there to the wee hours, setting yourself up for a ratty day ahead.
Or, worse, you struggle to fall asleep and every night is a veritable Russian roulette as to whether you’re going to get any shut-eye at all.
You’re not alone (not that that’s any comfort).
The South African Society of Sleep Medicine estimates that up to 40% of us suffer from sleep deprivation each year. Scientists and researchers blame everything from stress to a lack of exercise.
More interestingly, new research hints that the problem - and solution - to sleep deprivation could lie within your gut.
Not just a centre for digestion, your gut also manufactures over 90% of your body’s serotonin.
This chemical is responsible for keeping your mood on an even keel – preventing issues like depression and anxiety (known sleep wreckers).
Your gut is your gastrointestinal hub; home to your oesophagus, stomach, small and large intestines and the rectum. This one-stop shop makes up 75% of your immune system. In other words: keeping it happy keeps most of your body happy!
Here, hundreds of species of bacteria are at play; some good, some bad.
These are called gut bacteria, and each group benefits your health in different ways.
WATCH: Who knew how charming our guts really are?
And to do so, each species siphons different nutrients from your food.
The connection between your gut and your overall health is tangible. Scientists say that what happens in the gastrointestinal system has a direct link with your physical health and emotional wellbeing.
A 2015 study showed that when volunteers upped their probiotic dairy intake (good bacteria), their brain scans echoed a positive change in emotional function.
Researchers are now finding similar connections between the health of your gut and the state of your sleep.
Remember, to have an optimal night of sleep, it’s preferable if all the major centres of your body are firing along amiably.
“There’s no question that gut health is linked to sleep health,” says Dr Michael Breus, a psychologist and fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
“Scientists investigating sleep are finding that the microbial ecosystem may affect sleep and sleep-related physiological functions in a number of different ways: shifting circadian rhythms, altering the body’s sleep-wake cycle, and affecting hormones that regulate sleep and wakefulness.”
If your bacteria are out-of-whack, your wellbeing takes a nosedive.
How does this happen?
Factors like bad lifestyle choices (excessive fast food, not enough exercise, smoking and drinking) contribute to the bad bacteria “taking over” and running roughshod all over your body and mind – bringing us back to why your sleep suffers.
Also important to know: the good bacteria create calming amino acids in your body – vital for sleep.
Just how influential is your gut?
Well, consider this: even jetlag can affect your gut bacteria, causing it to go into a temporary shutdown of manufacturing the good stuff. This leads to poor sleep.
Balancing the bacteria?
So, we know an unhappy gut = unhappy you.
To get your health on track, focus on getting your good bacteria up to about 80%.
A healthy gut doesn’t just promote deep sleep. You’ll know you’re in the optimal zone when you feel less bloated, unpleasant gastro problems (diarrhoea or constipation) disappear, your skin clears up, your mood is consistent and you’re less prone to extreme highs and lows.
Watch for fewer sugar and salt cravings too; signs that your good bacteria are ruling the roost.
A quick win to topping up your good bacteria levels, and getting a great night of sleep – is with probiotics.
Probiotics are microbial foods (yoghurt with live AB cultures) or supplements (chew tablets or capsules) used to change or improve intestinal bacterial balance.
But it is worth getting your diet and lifestyle right for long-term wellbeing.
- Go easy on sugar; it’s packed with the kind of stuff on which the bad bacteria thrive.
- Keep a food diary and note which foods cause acne, bloating and other flare-ups.
- Make water your BFF. Water sloshes through your intestines, flushing out the waste contents, making a clean environment for the good bacteria to flourish.
- Watch your meds. Don’t swallow pills and potions for every ache and pain. Antibiotics and antiviral medication should be reserved for serious issues. Research shows that overuse of antibiotics can mess up all that good bacteria in your gut.
- And finally, here comes the exercise hoopla: but we promise: it is good for your gut! Regular exercise goes a long way in helping reduce inflammation in the gut.