The importance of sleep should never be underestimated. Numerous studies have linked lack of sleep to a number of health issues. Clinicians have numerous tools to help patients get the quantity and quality of sleep they require. One novel technique emerging in the scientific literature is the clinician’s ability to influence the gut microbiome in patients who are struggling with sleep.
The connection between sleep and the gut is a two-way street. Preliminary animal and human studies indicate that chronic lack of sleep can disrupt the gut microbiota and contribute to inflammation and insulin resistance. It’s not surprising then that research is also showing that interventions to influence the gut microbiota may also positively influence sleep.
A 2015 study in the journal Sleep Science analyzed fecal material for different organisms in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. The participants that had colonization of Streptococcus sp were given antibiotics as an intervention to influence gut microbiota. Several subjective sleep parameters were improved in the group that took the antibiotics. The researchers concluded that there is evidence that changing the gut microbiome may alter sleep.
A 2017 animal study featured in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience showed that a diet containing prebiotics enhanced sleep quality and changed the gut microbiota. As an added twist, the researchers exposed the animals to stress and the animals who ate the prebiotic diet had reduced physiological effects from the stress.
“There is no question in my mind that gut health is linked to sleep health…” concludes Michael Breus, PhD, who is a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “…the microbial ecosystem may affect sleep and sleep-related physiological functions in a number of different ways: shifting circadian rhythms, altering the body’s sleep-wake cycle, affecting hormones that regulate sleep and wakefulness.”
While there is still much more that we need to learn and confirm regarding the gut-sleep connection, preliminary evidence suggests that this exciting area of study could positively impact patients who are having sleep issues. Because using probiotics and prebiotics to influence the gut microbiome is considered safe, supplementation may be worth considering in some patients who have sleep issues.
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Thompson RS, Roller R, Mika A, et al. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. 2017;10:240.