New Study Reveals Exactly How Poor Sleep Hurts Your Gut Health

mbg Health Contributor By Gretchen Lidicker, M.S.
mbg Health Contributor
Gretchen Lidicker earned her master’s degree in physiology with a focus on alternative medicine from Georgetown University. She is the author of “CBD Oil Everyday Secrets” and “Magnesium Everyday Secrets.”

Image by Kayla Snell / Stocksy

We all know that having a healthy gut is an important part of our overall wellness. We also know that certain factors and activities—like a poor diet and stress—can put our gut health at risk.

At the same time, the value of sleep is getting more and more coverage in the news and in scientific research. We're learning that lack of sleep can affect not just our energy levels but our mood, blood sugar balance, and even our metabolism. Sleep and gut health are arguably the most important parts of any good wellness routine.

And now, a new study shows just how much these two very important aspects of our health are connected. Published in PLOS One, the results show that lack of sleep can negatively affect your gut microbiome.

How poor sleep affects the gut microbiome.

To make this connection, the participants slept with what the authors referred to as "an Apple Watch on steroids" on their wrist. The device measured their vitals and communicated sleep quality with a high degree of details. Next, the researchers, who were from Nova Southeastern University (NSU), tested the subject's gut microbiome using fecal swabs.

The findings showed that "total microbiome diversity was positively correlated with increased sleep efficiency and total sleep time, and was negatively correlated with wake after sleep onset," as the authors wrote. In other words, the participants who slept well had a healthier gut microbiome.

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How gut health and sleep are connected.

Considering the fact that one in four Americans will develop insomnia each year, this news is a big deal. As lead author on the study, Jaime Tartar explained, "We know that sleep is pretty much the 'Swiss Army Knife of health." Basically, it helps with everything: "We've all seen the reports that show not getting proper sleep can lead to short term (stress, psychosocial issues) and long-term (cardiovascular disease, cancer) health problems. We know that the deepest stages of sleep is when the brain 'takes out the trash' since the brain and gut communicate with each other. Quality sleep impacts so many other facets of human health," he continued.

Even more, it appears that the link between sleep and microbiome health is a two-way street. As Tartar explained, "Given the strong gut-brain bidirectional communication they likely influence each other." This means that a cycle of poor sleep, poor gut health, worse sleep, deteriorating gut health is possible.

But before you go thinking our sleep quality and guts are all doomed, this bidirectional communication could actually be a positive thing as well. Why? It means that improvements in just one of the two aspects of our health could turn the negative cycle into a positive one, one where better sleep leads to a healthier gut and vice versa.

So where do you start? To start focusing on sleep quality, try one of these supplements for sleep. If you want to start by targeting the gut microbiome, read up on the best and worst foods for your gut—or take mbg's Functional Nutrition Program to become your own gut health expert.

Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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