The Issue at Hand:
Unfortunately, the following scenario is all too common for some of us: We lie in bed, eyes closed, pacing our breath, all in a failed attempt to fall asleep. We periodically check our alarm clock, only to see the time get later and later. 2:30 a.m.? How could it be?! Well fellow reader, as Kate Leaver points out in her article ‘Could it be your gut keeping you awake at night?,’ there is a potential (and perhaps surprising) explanation to such restlessness… microbes.
So What Exactly Are Microbes?
In essence, microbes are microorganisms, such as bacteria. There are trillions in the small intestine alone. Despite their microscopic size, they have the ability to impact mood, digestion, and, as previously mentioned, sleep.
Above is an image of gut microbes. (Credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories)
As Matt Walker, the director of the Center of Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, points out: “…we don’t fully understand yet…the role of the microbiome in sleep.” However, various studies are currently exploring this phenomenon. Among these include a study conducted by scientists at the University of Colorado, which links microbes and quality of sleep by utilizing both probiotics (i.e. live bacteria) and prebiotics (i.e. carbohydrates such as fiber). Essentially, probiotics and prebiotics supplement the ‘good’ bacteria/microbes in our guts. In fact, after taking supplements for five days, insomniac Dr. Michael Mosley calculated that his time awake in bed decreased drastically from 21% to a mere 8%. Other sleep experts, such as clinical psychologist Dr. Michael Breus, attest to the link between sleep and microbes. Dr. Beus believes that, “…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.” Finally, Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, points out how people with depression and people with poor sleeping schedules often have, “…abnormal microbes in the gut.”
What to Do Going Forward?
Given that the aforementioned studies are ongoing, and thus lack solidity, it can be difficult to determine how to improve one’s sleeping schedule. However, Mr. Spector adamantly believes that a healthy diet is the key to eliminating sleep disturbances. More specifically, he proposes the consumption of ‘gut-friendly’ foods, which are unprocessed and high in fiber. These include, but are not limited to, berries, green tea, dark chocolate, nuts, and seeds. Hopefully, with these tips, along with future discoveries, you will find yourself fast asleep in no time!