As you may know, sleep is an important part of overall health. It not only influences energy levels, but it also helps every system in the body function properly, including the immune system, heart, brain and even digestive system. If you’re not sleeping well, it can take a toll on your gut health in a variety of ways.
“Sleep and gut health are definitely interconnected,” says Ryan Barish, M.D., a functional lifestyle medicine physician with Henry Ford Health. “There’s still a lot we don’t know—we’re just scratching the surface, especially when it comes to how sleep influences our gut bacteria—but we do know that digestive health can play a role in how well someone sleeps, and sleep can affect how well the digestive system functions. It’s a two-way street.”
Our bodies like consistency and predictability, meaning we should go to sleep and wake up around the same time each day, with just about an hour of leeway in between. We should eat at the same times and be as consistent as possible, even on the weekends, says Dr. Barish.
Here, 4 ways lack of sleep consistency can affect gut health:
- Lack of sleep can increase stress, which affects the gut. When you don’t get enough sleep, your hormones can become unbalanced, and the stress hormone, cortisol, can rise. “Increased stress can cause intestinal permeability issues—or something known as leaky gut—where food and toxins are able to pass through the intestine and into the bloodstream. This can lead to a host of issues including bloating, inflammation, stomach pains, food sensitivities, and changes to the gut microbiome,” says Dr. Barish.
- Lack of sleep can affect dietary choices. When you’re sleep deprived, certain hormones that control hunger can go a bit haywire, leading to an increased appetite. Not to mention the fact that when you’re tired, it’s more likely that you’ll turn to unhealthy food choices for quick energy boosts. (Think processed carbs, sugar and trans fats.) These foods can negatively impact your gut health and your overall health.
- Lack of the sleep hormone, melatonin, may be related to GERD. Melatonin is a hormone that our bodies make more of in the nighttime, as it helps us fall asleep. But that’s not all it does: melatonin also helps regulate gastrointestinal mobility. When melatonin levels are thrown off, it can be difficult to sleep—and it could potentially lead to GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease. “While there are a lot of variables involved, there is a connection between a lack of melatonin and GERD,” says Dr. Barish. Some people who are diagnosed GERD take melatonin supplements to increase their levels, helping them sleep and reduce symptoms of GERD.
- If you stay up too late, you might eat too close to bedtime, which can negatively impact your digestive health. “You shouldn’t eat within three hours of going to bed,” says Dr. Barish. “You don’t want the body to be burdened with digestion and absorption while you’re sleeping, because that’s when your body is supposed to be recuperating and doing housekeeping tasks. Plus, it could also keep you up and lead to restless sleep.”
But If you’ve had only one or two nights of restless sleep, don’t ring the alarm bell yet. “The longer you are sleep deprived, the more likely it is that you could experience digestive issues,” says Dr. Barish. “It also probably has to do with your resiliency—how healthy you are otherwise, whether you have other medical conditions. But the longer the sleep deprivation goes on, the bigger impact it can have on your gut health.”
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To find a doctor at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
Dr. Ryan Barish is a functional lifestyle medicine physician with Henry Ford Health. He sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center in Royal Oak.