Sleep, a five letter word meaning a condition of the body in which the muscles are relaxed, the eyes are closed, and consciousness is suspended. For most of us, the word sleep conjures up relaxing thoughts and images such as fluffy sheep leaping over fences, raindrops showering metal roofs, meditating beside a waterfall, watching babies sleep to the soft sounds of lullabies, snuggling with a warm, fluffy kitten, hugging our favorite pillow while visions of sugarplums dance in our heads. Everyone loves to sleep. Who wants to get out of bed when the alarm goes off? Not me. So why are we all sleep deprived and not sleeping the requisite 7 – 9 hours nightly? Could it be the 60-hour work week in the corporate world? Maybe the stress of working two jobs just to make ends meet? Maybe it is our addiction to our electronic devices? Could it be the baby who doesn’t sleep through the night or just the stress of raising children on a daily basis? It could most certainly be the fear of the next pandemic! There is another potential culprit to add to the list. Lack of sleep is influenced by your microbiome. OMG! Does every medical condition relate to our gut bugs? Apparently, yes.
It is an established fact that the microbiome interacts with every other organ in our body. Microbes are essential to the production of neurotransmitters which are messengers that communicate with the brain, the intestines, and every other organ system in the body. These messengers regulate multiple processes in addition to the obvious one of digestion. They control muscle movement, heart rate, breathing, mood, and guess what? They even coordinate our sleep cycles.
These messengers also assist with the production of serotonin. If our gut bugs are not blossoming with robust, healthy, good bacteria, our serotonin levels are low. If serotonin levels are low, anxiety and depression and sadness dominate our emotions. They also impact our sleep cycles. Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or having deep restorative sleep depends on our serotonin levels. Flourishing gut bugs are essential for adequate serotonin production which helps with maintaining a healthy sleep cycle, but a satisfactory amount of sleep is necessary to maintain a healthy microbiome. It’s a potential catch 22 situation.
So here is the good news. You can eat your way to health, relaxation, and somnolent slumber. No drugs or procedures involved. Obviously, there are other distractions, obstacles, and conditions that affect sleep, but remedying the external issues will not work unless the internal issues are resolved. Just another reason to eat those fruits and vegetables. So go ahead and prepare for your journey to the Land of Nod. Fix a green smoothie, have a salad for lunch, eat an apple for a snack, and keep nuts on hand for those between meal munchies. If you are already doing that and still battle with the sandman nightly, make sure you are not sabotaging your sleep by following these guidelines:
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine.
- Have a cup of chamomile or herbal tea.
- Read a book before bedtime.
- Avoid using electronic devices with a screen such as phones and laptops.
- Keep light and noise levels to a minimum in the bedroom.
- Avoid caffeine after noon and limit alcohol late in the evening.
- Exercise regularly.
- Wake up at the same time every day and avoid daytime naps.
- Quit smoking.
“Also, I could finally sleep. And this was the real gift, because when you cannot sleep, you cannot get yourself out of the ditch—there’s not a chance.” — Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
Gut microbiome diversity is associated with sleep physiology in humans. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6779243/
Insomnia: How do I stay asleep? Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/expert-answers/insomnia/faq-20057824
How gut microbiomes contribute to good sleep. Retrieved from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/how-gut-microbes-contribute-to-good-sleep