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Research Identifies A Potential Link Between Sleep Quality & Gut Health

Asian woman sleeping and well rested in bed
Image by LEAH FLORES / Stocksy
September 25, 2020

The gut is connected to pretty much every system in the body. Feeling moody? Constantly constipated? Coming down with a cold? The gut could be contributing to all of it.

Now, research from University of Missouri School of Medicine says the gut may also affect sleep regulation1—primarily in cases of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). The study, which was published in the journal Experimental Neurology, found altering the gut microbiome can influence and improve sleep patterns in mice. 

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How does the gut microbiome affect sleep?

For this study, researchers started with two groups of mice: one group breathed normally, while the other was given what mimicked human OSA. 

After six weeks, researchers introduced a third group of mice and gave them each fecal transplants. Half of the mice received a fecal transplant from the normal breathing group, while the others received a fecal transplant from the apnea group. The sleep patterns of this third group were then monitored for three days.

Those who received microbiota from the apnea group showed signs of increased tiredness, including longer sleep periods and more frequent napping throughout the day. The other group slept normally. 

So, what's next for the research?

Lead researcher David Gozal, M.D., says that this study shows that manipulating the gut microbiome could eventually help prevent and manage sleep apnea issues. 

"For example, if we combine continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) with customized probiotics that change the patient's gut microbiome," he says, "we might be able to eliminate some of the tiredness and fatigue, and reduce the likelihood of the comorbidities associated with OSA that affect cognition, memory, cardiovascular disease or metabolic dysfunction."

However promising, this preliminary research was conducted on animals, so more research is needed to verify the results in humans. Once that happens, Gozal says "then this is a major movement forward in the way we treat OSA."

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