My husband and I came home from work exhausted on Monday; like, too exhausted to cook dinner! In situations like this, it would be great if I had some forethought to cook extra batches of some healthy dishes, portion them out and then freeze them. But, no, I don’t have great forethought!
Out came the take-out menu for the Chinese restaurant nearby. I know this is probably one of the least healthiest cuisines around (but that palace-style chicken is just soooo good!); however, when you’re too tired to cook and too tired to care…yeah, you get the picture.
I’ve discovered that when I eat something with wheat in it, I do not sleep well that night. And, the closer to bedtime I eat wheat, the worse it is. By the time we ordered our food, it was almost 7pm so I knew I would regret this meal in more ways than one.
Bloating, constipation the next day, and waking up at 2:30am…yeah, my body was NOT happy with me!! And, the worst part is I’m still suffering a bit from it – the wheat seems to take 3-4 days to fully get out of my system. I feel inflamed, fat and drained today, 4 days later.
My sleep issues with wheat make it very clear that there is a connection between what’s going on in my gut and my sleep hormones. I don’t know the exact science behind my problem but I believe that the wheat proteins inflame my gut, get into my blood, and circulate to my brain where they interfere with my melatonin and cortisol production. For me, having a healthy gut is very important for a great sleep.
Your sleep is maintained by circadian rhythms, which are patterns of brainwave activity, hormones, cell regeneration and biological activities that fluctuate throughout the day. To keep this circadian rhythm on track, you need to have a good night’s sleep each night.
What is one major player in regulating this rhythm? You guessed it – your gut! Namely your gut microbiome with the optimal balance of good to bad bacteria. And, like many other processes in the body, the gut requires us to sleep well so that the microbiome can maintain its balance. I’m beginning to think there’s more to that saying “the circle of life” – everything is connected and affected by everything else inside your body too!
For those of you interested in losing weight, you might be intrigued to learn that not having the right balance of microbes in your gut can actually lower your metabolic rate while you sleep. This means weight gain at night – yikes! A study at UI Carver College of Medicine found that mice given a drug that lowered their good bacteria had a lower metabolic rate when resting and asleep, making them gain weight compared to mice with a healthy gut microbiome.
This all means that it’s important to work on both sleep and gut bacterial balance!
Now, I’m sure this isn’t new to you but there are some great ways to help you sleep better:
- Set up a bedtime and waking schedule and stick to it for at least 21 days, even on weekends.
- Avoid bright lights, especially from electronics 2 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid eating or exercising intensely before bedtime (stretching or yoga can relax you, though, so they’re okay before bed).
- Make your bedroom as dark as you possibly can – it’s light that tricks you into thinking it’s time to be awake.
- Develop a relaxing bedtime routine to follow each night: take a warm bath, read a book, do some deep breathing, have a cup of herbal tea.
- If you work shifts and have an irregular sleep schedule, consider eating more foods to increase your melatonin levels, like turkey.
- Artificial full-spectrum lights from devices called Litebooks are great to help reset a circadian rhythm.
What you eat plays a role (as is very obvious in my case) too. You could have unidentified food sensitivities that interrupt your sleep so you might want to consult with a nutrition expert to help you figure these out (we can do what’s called an ‘elimination diet’ for 6 weeks to see if any foods are affecting you).
Your colon bacterium produces something called butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid, that’s essential for circadian rhythm function. Make sure you eat some potatoes, brown rice, legumes and sweet potatoes to help the colon make this fatty acid.
What else can you do from a food perspective?
Well, you can eat lots of prebiotic foods with resistant starch, like Jerusalem artichokes, jicama and bran. Apples are great too!. Probiotics in supplement form can replenish your gut bacteria and improve melatonin levels.
Improving gut bacterial balance is vital to pretty much every health ailment there is. Since great health starts in your digestive tract, having a strong gut microbiome can prevent allergies, improve liver function, help with hormonal balance and reduce inflammation all throughout your body!
Circadian Disorganization Alters Intestinal Microbiota, Robin M. Voigt,1 et al, PLoS One. 2014; 9(5): e97500.
Effects of diurnal variation of gut microbes and high-fat feeding on host circadian clock function and metabolism. Leone V1, et al, Cell Host Microbe. 2015 May 13;17(5):681-9.
Melatonin regulation as a possible mechanism for probiotic (VSL#3) in irritable bowel syndrome: a randomized double-blinded placebo study, Wong RK1 et al, Dig Dis Sci. 2015 Jan;60(1):186-94.