Many of us know that outside factors such as stress, diet, and exercise can affect sleep, but did you know that microbiomes can also affect it? Microbiomes are ecosystems of ever-changing micro-organisms. The human body contains trillions of micro-organisms, outnumbering human cells 10 to 1. Because of their size though, they only account for 1-3% of body mass. The microbiome is often referred to as our “second brain”, because it has a nervous system and about 100 million neurons. It helps to regulate hormone production, immune system function, appetite, digestion and metabolism, mood, and stress responses. It also produces many of the same neurotransmitters that are needed for sleep, such as dopamine, seratonin, and GABA. Melatonin is also produced in both the brain and the gut.
Some of the more popular microbes found in the body are in the gut, mouth, and for women in the vagina and through lactation. In fact, when a woman gives birth vaginally, and goes on to exclusively breastfeed her baby, she’s passing on her microbes. It almost becomes like DNA, as every person’s microbes are different and unique. These microbes give baby the good bacteria they need to form a healthy immune system. When the mother is in active labor, and once her waters break, she is passing on the vaginal microbes to baby through the skin and mouth. Then baby passes through the birth canal, again getting more of these good germs. When baby passes by the anus, they are getting mom’s gut microbes (a gross thought, I know, but an important step). Later, when mom breastfeeds her baby, both the skin contact and milk itself passes yet another set of good bacteria to baby. If this isn’t impressive enough, there are sugars in the breast milk that actually seed the infant gut microbe, getting it ready to start the immune system! That means that these sugars don’t have a nutritional value for the baby, other than to feed these good bacteria.
Going back to the topic of sleep, research has recently shown that when we sleep poorly or have fragmented sleep, it starts to affect our gut microbiome. When that happens, there is a significant decrease to the good bacteria, while there are changes to the micro-organisms which have been linked to type 2 diabetes and obesity. Along with this, an unhealthy gut can lead to poor sleep and cognitive decline. Some research points to poor sleep possibly leading to cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Research is also indicating that sleep apnea may have a detrimental effect on the gut microbe that might not be as easy to fix. Research is also showing that depression can also be linked to a lack of certain bacteria in the gut.
We know that stress can affect sleep, but it appears that stress can also affect our gut health. Some research is showing that taking a probiotic containing the bacteria Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota (the one found in fermented foods such as yogurt) can help with both sleep and stress. Prebiotics can also be helpful, as these are bacteria strains that are an energy source for those trillion micro-organisms. Because everyone’s microbiomes are different, it’s important to do your research and try things slowly to see how your body reacts. On a personal note, I had to stop giving my 7yr old son probiotics recently because I found that it was the cause of his periodic stomachaches. Again, just be aware that everyone’s body and reactions will be different.
Diet also plays a role in not only our sleep, but in our microbes. It’s important that you focus on a diet rich in whole, organic foods and avoid fatty, fried foods whenever possible. It can help your gut keep the good bacteria, while reducing the bad ones that can make you sick or cause disease. It can help with things like inflammation, obesity, skin diseases such as psorasis, autoimmune arthritis, type 2 diabetes, and more. Just one more reason why eating healthy is so important!
If you are interested in learning more about how you can live your best life, then let’s chat! As a Holistic Health & Lifestyle Practitioner, I help people figure things like this out! I can help you create good, healthy eating habits, learn how to meal plan/prep, improve your sleep, increase your activity levels, discuss your relationships that might not be benefiting you, talk about your career choice, or anything else that is currently going on in your life! You’ve got nothing to lose by setting up a free initial phone call with me, but you have a lot to gain!