Getting good shut-eye has more to do with your gut than you realize.
Your digestive tract is home to trillions of organisms called microbiota.
Together, they make up the microbiome, a complex ecosystem that researchers are slowly discovering influences physical and mental health much more than they had thought.
How much and how well we sleep may be swayed by our microbiome — and in turn, sleep is a critical component in how we feel during our waking hours.
Scientists aren’t totally sure why humans spend so much time asleep — but we need to sleep to function. It is intimately tied to our mood, mental health, and the wellness of our entire bodies.
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As the mysteries of the microbiome come to light, scientists are realizing how it can have a domino effect on other aspects of our health.
Here are 6 critical connections between the microbiome and sleep:
A flourishing, diverse microbiome is a hallmark of a healthy body — and it could influence how much deep REM sleep you get at night.
The research is preliminary, but a 2017 study suggests dietary prebiotics help increase levels of REM sleep — at least in rats.
In humans, researchers discovered people who don’t sleep well typically have a less diverse microbiome — and that boosting our internal ecosystem’s diversity may have the opposite, beneficial effect.
More than a billion people worldwide have sleep apnea. But some animal studies hint nourishing the microbiome may be the key to treating it.
But most investigations so far have been in animals rather than humans — so we need to wait for better science to know for sure.
The microbiome affects sleep quality, but sleep quality also affects the microbiome.
In 2016, researchers observed that chronic sleep disruption appears to alter the microbiomes of mice and cause inflammation.
Circadian genes — the ones that keep the body’s internal clock on time — may play a role in influencing the gut microbiome, scientists believe.
Circadian genes are also intertwined with conditions like insomnia — so it’s no surprise researchers think the microbiome has a hand in this condition, too.
The differences in the diversity of insomniacs’ microbiomes are so pronounced they could help diagnose the condition.
Sleep problems can both drive and result from psychiatric conditions like depression.
Scientists have noticed a link between specific disturbances in the microbiome and major depressive disorder.
They detected higher levels of a certain bacterium in people with depression that may be linked to higher levels of inflammation.
Stress can also affect sleep disorders and exacerbate mental health problems.
For example, a report from 2020 found rats who consumed prebiotics had improved sleep and greater resilience against stress.