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Can’t Sleep? Maybe It’s All in Your Gut

New research suggests the solution to insomnia might be as easy as changing your diet and adding beneficial probiotics to your gut, The Guardian reports. While it’s a new concept, scientists said what they do know about the relationship between lack of sleep and other aspects of your diet, such as appetite, obesity and glucose regulation, may be hints that the well-being of your stomach is linked to your sleep health.


Sleep researcher Matt Walker, author of “Why We Sleep,” told The Guardian that the idea of improving gut health to improve sleep is “one of our least understood but most exciting possibilities.” However, a clinical psychologist and fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Michael Breus, is more certain that sleep and diet are related: “There is no question in my mind that gut health is linked to sleep health,” Breus said — so in the meantime take some prebiotics and probiotics and feed your gut.

Walker has already gone on the record as declaring sleep a nonnegotiable, necessary part of your life, and that too many people are ignoring the importance of why we sleep. In fact, in his book, Walker suggests insomnia is “one of the most pressing and prevalent medical issues facing modern society,” yet it is rarely acted on in ways reflecting its importance.

What’s really exciting, though, is the idea that it could be your gut causing your sleepless nights, even when you’ve done everything you can to facilitate getting a good night’s sleep. We already know that sleep influences your gut health, but the idea of it being a two-way street seems almost too simple — mainly because it’s so workable.

In fact, the prebiotics, which act as food for the beneficial bacteria, or probiotics, in your gut have already been found to influence sleep in animal studies. In addition, rats eating prebiotics had an increase in beneficial gut bacteria as compared to the control group and spent more time in REM sleep after being stressed, which is important for promoting recovery.

In adults, one study found:

Very short sleepers (less than five hours a night) had the least food variety, drank less water and consumed fewer total carbohydrates and lycopene (an antioxidant found in fruits and vegetables).

Short sleepers (five to six hours) consumed the most calories but ate less vitamin C and selenium, and drank less water. Short sleepers tended to eat more lutein and zeaxanthin than other groups.

Normal sleepers (seven to eight hours) had the most food variety in their diet, which is generally associated with a healthier way of eating.

Long sleepers (nine or more hours) consumed the least calories as well as less theobromine (found in chocolate and tea), choline and total carbs. Long sleepers tended to drink more alcohol.

As for how to support a healthy microbiota, which could do more to improve your sleep than is currently appreciated, it isn't very complicated, but you do need to take proactive steps to encourage its health while avoiding factors known to cause harm. This includes:

  • Eating plenty of fermented foods
  • Taking a probiotic supplement
  • Avoiding antibiotics unless absolutely necessary
  • Avoiding CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) meats
  • Boosting your soluble and insoluble fiber intake

• Ditching processed foods

Because 70 to 80 percent of your immune system resides in your gut, it’s also essential to balance your gut flora by eliminating refined and excess natural sugars from your diet as a first step toward gut health.

Then, you can begin eating fermented foods — some examples are kefir, kimchi, natto, sauerkraut and raw grass fed yogurt.

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