According to new research, simply enjoying a wholesome diet may not be enough to support a healthy digestive system.

There are so many ways in which sleep can impact our life—a bad night's rest can lead to poor focus throughout the day and overall grumpy behavior, but it also may directly impact your dietary health. Specifically, not getting enough sleep could have a negative impact on what's known as the microbiome in your gastrointestinal tract, or the collection of microorganisms, bacteria, and fungi, that is responsible for helping regulate your digestive system. A lack of bacteria diversity in your microbiome is linked to autoimmune diseases as well as mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, and may impede your efforts to eat a healthy diet as well. 

Woman Sleeping in Bed
Credit: Getty Images / andresr

A team of researchers at Nova Southeastern University published their research linking gut health to sleep in the journal PLoS One, which stemmed from experiments where scientists observed how a lack of sleep influenced microbiome diversity. Subjects in the study wore monitoring devices to sleep, allowing researchers to measure the quality of their nightly rest; then, subjects' microbiome samples were also tested. The research revealed that those who slept longer overall enjoyed flourishing flora in their guts, whereas not getting enough sleep could have impeded the growth of bacteria.

"We know that sleep is pretty much the 'Swiss Army Knife' of health," Jaime Tartar, Ph.D., a research director at Nova Southeastern University's College of Psychology, said in a press release. "Getting a good night's sleep can lead to improved health, and a lack of sleep can have detrimental effects…We know that the deepest stages of sleep is when the brain 'takes out the trash' since the brain and gut communicate with each other. Quality sleep impacts so many other facets of human health."

Tartar's team establishes in their research that the microbiome may be influenced by genetics as well as the amount of medications one takes. Diet is another significant influence on your gut health and microbiome, as a balanced diet better promotes microbiome diversity as opposed to processed foods. But sleep's role in acute and chronic stress, as well as other psychological issues, may also extend to your gut—over a longer period of time, researchers say a lack of sleep may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and even cancer.  

For now, researchers will continue to research the role that sleep plays on gut health, and the "two-way communication" that occurs between the brain and the gut. "The preliminary results are promising, but there's still more to learn," Smith said. "But eventually people may be able to take steps to manipulate their gut microbiome in order to help them get a good night's sleep."


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