Leaky Gut? You May Need More Sleep, Study Finds

mbg Editorial Assistant By Jamie Schneider
mbg Editorial Assistant
Jamie Schneider is the Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen with a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan. She's previously written for Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.

Image by Danil Nevsky / Stocksy

Ever wondered why you felt especially nauseated while experiencing jet lag? Or if your bowel habits have felt a little more, shall we say, erratic, after a night of little sleep? According to a study published in Nature, our stomachs tend to rely very heavily on our sleeping habits, and there's a perfectly scientific reason why. 

A group of scientists in Lisbon, Portugal, found that a specific class of immune cells that contribute to gut health are controlled by our brain's circadian clock. 

Previous research has shown that all cells in the body have internal "clock genes" that inform cells of the time of day to help our organs anticipate what is going to happen in our bodies (like if it's time to eat or sleep). However, these cells obviously can't tell when it's light or dark outside themselves, so it's up to the brain's circadian clock to supply our cells with this information so they're all on the same page. 

The leader of the study, Henrique Veiga-Fernandes, explains further: "The job of the brain's clock, which receives direct information about daylight, is to synchronize all of these little clocks inside the body so that all systems are in synch, which is absolutely crucial for our well-being," he said in a news release. That being said, when our brain's clock is off, our cell clocks are greatly affected. 

You're probably thinking, "So, what's so new about this study if we already know how important the brain-cell relationship is for our bodies?" 

In this study, the scientists found a group of cells that were particularly sensitive to changes in our brain clocks. This group of cells, called Type 3 Innate Lymphoid Cells (ILC3s), are super susceptible to these changes and are significant for functions in the gut—think fighting gut infections, controlling inflammation, and absorbing lipids. These ILC3s need specific instruction after we eat—a "molecular ZIP code," the scientists call it—in order to know where to migrate in the gut to fight potential invaders. When the brain's circadian rhythms were altered, the ILC3s were incapable of expressing this ZIP code and were therefore unable to "reach their destination" in the gut, so to speak.  

"When we disrupted their clocks, we found that the number of ILC3s in the gut was significantly reduced. This resulted in severe inflammation, breaching of the gut barrier, and increased fat accumulation," Veiga-Fernandes said

We knew pulling all-nighters was bad for brain health and our immune systems, but it looks like sleep deprivation can have dramatic consequences for our guts as well. This study also explains why we can feel especially sick when our circadian rhythms are altered, such as when we experience jet lag. 

"Sleep deprivation, or altered sleep habits, can have dramatic health consequences, resulting in a range of diseases that frequently have an immune component, such as bowel inflammatory conditions," Veiga-Fernandes revealed. And now, according to the study, we have a little bit more insight into the reason why. 

So, the next time your stomach feels upset after a night of no sleep, think of your ILC3s running amok in your gut with no ZIP code to call home. If that image doesn't inspire you to follow a nighttime ritual to ensure a full eight hours of shut-eye, I don't know what will.

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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