Could Your Gut Hold the Key to a Better Night Sleep?
Nutritionist Grace Carey-Caton shares her best nutritional advice for better rest.
The gut, also known as the second brain, plays an essential role in your sleep. Here, chemical messengers such as serotonin, dopamine and melatonin are produced – all of which need to be in balance for us to sleep well.
There is considerable evidence to show that a diverse and healthy bacteria population in your gut is linked to increased sleep time and quality, whereas inflammation of the gut can result in sleep loss and circadian imbalance. The key message? We should look after our gut bacteria if we want a better rest.
5 simple ways to improve your gut and sleep health
PLANT BASED FOODS
Increase your intake of plant-based foods by incorporating an abundance of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains into your diet. At a minimum aim for two pieces of fruit, five portions of vegetables, two to three wholegrain portions and one to two portions of nuts, seeds and legumes a week.
Fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi contain microbes that help to replenish our gut microbiome. These foods have been shown to alter brain activity and support the gut-brain axis – the name for how our gut and brain communicate. Try including a source of fermented food into your diet daily to consistently replenish the gut flora and in turn may support your sleep cycle.
Our brains are composed mainly of fat, which is why we need fat to support its function. Specifically, Omega-3 fats perform a variety of roles in the brain such as building cell membranes and offering anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Studies have also shown that Omega-3 can positively impact the gut by increasing microbiome composition and reducing inflammation.
Foods high in Omega-3 fats include oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, trout and seeds such as chia seeds and flax seeds.
Polyphenols are a class of plant chemicals known as a phytochemical, that protect the body from oxidative stress and feed the gut bacteria. They can be found in a range of herbs and spices like rosemary, thyme, cloves, cinnamon and ginger. Blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are another good source as is coffee and dark chocolate.
There are also many lifestyle factors that help to support your gut and body clock.
Morning light exposure: the body's way of communicating with the sleep cycle is through daylight. Getting outside first thing in the morning can help to reset the cycle.
Relaxation methods: having time to relax not only helps the nervous system to relax but also helps the gut to relax. Try different methods such as yoga, meditation, reading or walking to support your gut-brain axis.
Exercise: studies have begun to show that there is a link between exercise and the diversity of our gut microbes, so following a sustainable exercise pattern could be a supportive method for the gut and sleep.
Grace Carey Caton, Grace Carey-Caton
Grace Carey-Caton is a Registered & Licensed Nutritionist (mBANT) (rCNHC). Her clinic is London based and she specialises in Gut Health and Female Health.