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Insomnia: Is the cause in the gut?

Your gut may decide the quality of your sleep

We spend about a third of our lives asleep . Sleep is vital - it is just as important to our bodies as eating, drinking and breathing. Adequate sleep is essential to maintaining good mental and physical health. Sleep and relaxation is an opportunity for the body to recharge and re-energize. We all probably know the feeling when we haven't slept enough, we are tired, lethargic and somehow not fully present. The gut microbiome – the collection of the trillions of microorganisms that live in your gut, not only has an enormous impact on your overall health, but may also play a role in how well you sleep. Let's take a closer look at the connection between the gut microbiome and sleep, as well as current research.

The gut microbiome influences the sleep-wake cycle

The microbial ecosystem can affect sleep and sleep-related physiological functions in a number of ways, including by altering the body's sleep-wake cycle and affecting the hormones that regulate sleep and wakefulness. The quality of our sleep, in turn, can affect the health and diversity of our microbiome. (1)

There is a constant interaction between the gut and the brain, which means that a disruption in either can affect sleep. The microbiome actually fuels the release of many of the neurotransmitters — including dopamine, serotonin, and GABA — that help regulate mood and promote sleep. Studies show a strong link between microbiome imbalances and stress, anxiety and depression, which in turn can trigger or worsen sleep disorders. (2, 3)

Research also links gut health to pain perception. An unhealthy microbiome appears to increase sensitivity to visceral pain, which can then make it much more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. (4)

Insomnia can be detrimental to gut health

Just as dysbiosis (imbalance in gut bacteria) can affect sleep, unhealthy sleep patterns can disrupt the gut microbiome. Such is the case, for example, with the common sleep disorder, obstructive sleep apnea. This leads to shallow breathing and pauses in breathing during sleep. Very often, people with obstructive sleep apnea also snore. In one study, scientists subjected mice to a pattern of disrupted breathing that mimics the effects of obstructive sleep apnea. They found that the mice living with periods of OSA-like respiration for six weeks showed significant changes in the diversity and composition of their microbiome. (5)

The gut microbiome influences the hormones responsible for sleep

Gut health is also significantly related to hormones that affect sleep. Melatonin, the "darkness hormone," is essential for sleep and a healthy sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin is produced in both the gut and the brain, and there is evidence that gut melatonin may work on a different cyclical rhythm than brain-produced pineal melatonin. (6)

In addition, cortisol is vital to the sleep-wake cycle. (7) This hormone is central to the body's stress and inflammatory response and affects gut permeability and microbial diversity. Increasing cortisol levels very early in the day help promote alertness, focus, and energy. Changes in cortisol that occur along the gut-brain axis are likely to affect sleep. (8th)

Put simply, our gut affects how well we sleep, and sleep affects the health of our gut. If we start on both sides, we can improve our sleep quality enormously. With myBioma you can easily find out whether your intestinal microbiome is in balance and optimize your intestinal health with suitable nutritional recommendations.

A deeper dive into the science of the microbiome and sleep

A growing body of research now suggests that the gut's vast and diverse microbial ecosystem has its own circadian rhythm. These microbial rhythms appear to be deeply intertwined with circadian rhythms. (9)

A circadian rhythm designates, for example, the fluctuations in bodily functions that are controlled by exogenous (day-night alternation) or endogenous (hormones) influences . Examples are fluctuations in heart rate, sleep-wake cycle, blood pressure and body temperature.

Research suggests that both the circadian and microbial rhythms are capable of influencing and disrupting each other, with consequences for both health and sleep. (10)

Diet affects the gut microbiome

According to research, microbiome rhythms are affected by what and when we eat. A study in mice found that when mice ate a healthy diet, they produced more beneficial bacteria, and that the collective activity of microbial life in the gut followed a diurnal — or diurnal — rhythm. (11, 12)

This rhythm, in turn, supported the animal's circadian rhythms. In contrast, mice fed a high-fat, "Western" diet produced less than optimal microbial life. The bacteria in these mice did not keep themselves to a circadian rhythm and also sent out signals that disrupted the circadian rhythm. These mice gained weight and became obese, while the mice that ate a healthy diet did not.

A healthy diet supports the good bacteria in your gut

Scientists bred a third group of mice without a microbiome. Because they lacked a gut microbiome, there were no bacteria that could send signals to the rest of their bodies. These mice experienced circadian disorders, but they neither gained weight nor suffered from metabolic disorders even when fed the high-fat diet. This suggests some important conclusions. First, microbial activity is key to normal circadian function, and therefore sleep. Second, that the microbiome, along with diet, plays a key role in regulating weight and metabolism.

Human sleep and microbiome studies

Research on humans has yielded similar results. The human microbiome appears to follow daily rhythms, which are influenced by the timing and type of food eaten, and it appears to have effects on circadian rhythms.Research has also found that the relationship between these different biological rhythms works both ways. Scientists found that disruptions in circadian rhythms - the kind that occurs with jet lag, whether from actual travel or from "social" jet lag - disrupt microbial rhythms and the health of the microbial ecosystem. (13) According to research, people who experience these changes in microbial rhythms as a result of a circadian disorder experience metabolic imbalance, glucose intolerance, and weight gain. (14)

The negative effects of disturbed sleep

We've known about the connection between sleep, circadian rhythms, and metabolic health for some time. Disrupted sleep and misaligned circadian rhythms are closely associated with higher rates of obesity and with metabolic disorders including type 2 diabetes. Over time, this new knowledge of the microbiome and its relationship to circadian function could provide us with a deeper understanding of how health is affected by sleep and circadian activity. (15)

What helps to positively influence the microbiome and sleep?

Although science continues to explore the complex interactions between the gut microbiome and sleep, the full implications of this relationship are not yet fully understood. It is clear that the health of our intestines affects our overall well-being . When you start positively influencing the ecosystem of your microbiome, you take preventive action to avoid discomfort. Whatever your sleep routine, there are ways you can support your sleep and your gut.

Start supporting your microbiome positively, experience your status quo and get a complete gut check to be able to improve your overall well-being afterwards. Start now with your individual microbiome analysis!

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(1) Schwartz, J.R.L. and Roth, T. (2008). Neurophysiology of sleep and wakefulness: basic science and clinical implications. Current Neuropharmacology. 6:4, pp. 367-378. doi: 10.2174/157015908787386050

(2) Martin CR, Osadchiy V, Kalani A, Mayer EA. The Brain-Gut Microbiome Axis. Cell Mole Gastroenterol Hepatol . 2018;6(2):133-148. Published 2018 Apr 12. doi:10.1016/j.jcmgh.2018.04.003

(3) IY Chen, DC Jarrin, H Ivers, A Rochefort, CM Morin, 0291 ASSOCIATION BETWEEN STRESS-INDUCED AROUSAL AND NOCTURNAL SLEEP, Sleep , Volume 40, Issue suppl_1, 28 April 2017, Pages A107-A108, https://

(4) Chichlowski M, Rudolph C. Visceral pain and gastrointestinal microbiome. J Neurogastroenterol Motil . 2015;21(2):172-181. doi:10.5056/jnm15025

(5) Moreno-Indias I, Torres M, Montserrat JM, Sanchez-Alcoholado L, Cardona F, Tinahones FJ, Gozal D, Poroyko VA, Navajas D, Queipo-Ortuño MI, Farré R. Intermittent hypoxia alters gut microbiota diversity in a Mouse model of sleep apnea. Eur Respir J 2015 Apr;45(4):1055-65. doi: 10.1183/09031936.00184314. Epub 2014 Dec 23. PMID: 25537565.

(6) Mukherjee S, Maitra SK. Gut Melatonin in Vertebrates: Chronobiology and Physiology. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2015 Jul 22;6:112. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2015.00112. PMID: 26257705; PMCID: PMC4510419.


(8) Foster JA, Rinaman L, Cryan JF. Stress & the gut-brain axis: Regulation by the microbiome. neurobiological stress. 2017 Mar 19;7:124-136. doi: 10.1016/j.ynstr.2017.03.001. PMID: 29276734; PMCID: PMC5736941.

(9) Gutierrez Lopez DE, Lashinger LM, Weinstock GM, Bray MS. Circadian rhythms and the gut microbiome synchronize the host's metabolic response to diet. Cell Metab. 2021 May 4;33(5):873-887. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2021.03.015. Epub 2021 Mar 30. PMID: 33789092.



(12) Roberto Refinetti (2017) Western diet affects the murine circadian system possibly through the gastrointestinal microbiota, Biological Rhythm Research, 48:2, 287-296, DOI: 10.1080 /09291016.2016.1254873

(13) Deaver JA, Eum SY, Toborek M. Circadian Disruption Changes Gut Microbiome Taxa and Functional Gene Composition. front microbiol. 2018 Apr 13;9:737. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2018.00737. PMID: 29706947; PMCID: PMC5909328.

(14) Shu-Qun Shi, Tasneem S Ansari, Owen P Mcguinness, David H Wasserman, Carl Hirschie Johnson. Circadian Disruption Leads to Insulin Resistance and Obesity . Current Biology , 21 February 2013 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.01.048

(15) Bailey SM, Udoh US, Young ME. Circadian regulation of metabolism. J Endocrinol. 2014 Aug;222(2):R75-96. doi: 10.1530/JOE-14-0200. Epub 2014 Jun 13. PMID: 24928941; PMCID: PMC4109003.


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