Spending the night hours tossing and turning is enough to ruin your whole next day – potentially your whole week. Whether you're struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep, it can feel like an uphill battle as you try every piece of advice the internet can offer.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), chronic sleep problems affect approximately 70 million Americans, many of whom turn to prescription sleep aids to get restful sleep. When it comes to getting better sleep, the best course of action will ultimately depend on your needs, and you might benefit from a consultation with your doctor.
That being said, it's worth mentioning that certain adjustments in lifestyle can make a difference in sleep quality. But did you know that probiotics may have the power to help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep for longer periods of time?
Sleep and the Gut-Brain Connection
So how are sleep quality and gut health connected?
To answer this question, it helps to understand the gut-brain connection.
Sometimes, we struggle to get good sleep because of gastrointestinal trouble. It could be cramping, gas, bloating, or anything in between. When we’re feeling discomfort brought on by gastrointestinal problems, what’s keeping us up might feel like a no-brainer.
But here’s the thing: our digestive tracts might be doing more to our sleep than making us uncomfortable. In fact, the gut may have a more profound impact on sleep than we think, and it has to do with its connection to the brain. This connection is known as the gut-brain axis.
The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional connection between the brain and the gut, and there's growing research demonstrating the different impacts that the gut microbiome has on certain functions of the brain, including sleep.
It’s believed that the brain “talks” to the gut largely through bidirectional interactions between the gut and the nervous system, also known as the gut-brain axis. Specifically, it’s been theorized that they influence the central nervous system (CNS) by modulating brain chemistry and neuro-endocrine systems associated with stress and anxiety, which both affect sleep.
For instance, gut bacteria may have an influence on the production and interaction of neurotransmitters in the brain. Additionally, a healthy population of gut bacteria is crucial to preventing an over-active immune response, which can have an impact on brain health.
The Gut-Brain Axis and Circadian Rhythm
There is still a lot to learn about the mechanisms between gut health and sleep, but some of the most promising research has focused on the gut's influence on circadian rhythm and neurotransmitters in the brain. Circadian rhythm, sometimes referred to as "internal clock," is the 24-hour cycle that handles essential body functions, particularly the sleep-wake cycle.
And as it turns out, the gut may influence circadian rhythm. One preclinical study examining the effects of intestinal bile demonstrated that bile might help regulate the body's circadian clock. In addition to bile acids our own organs secrete into the intestine, it's possible that gut bacteria also have an impact on our internal clocks.
Evidence indicates that gut bacteria may influence mental states, sleep quality, and circadian rhythm. And in turn, it's suggested that an imbalance of microbiota, known as dysbiosis, can feed into problems with sleep quality. It's still not confirmed what mechanisms cause the gut to impact our circadian rhythms, but there's some evidence that it works through neurotransmitters.
Our brains use neurotransmitters at all moments of the day to relay information throughout our bodies, whether it's about the world around us or what's going on within. When it comes to sleep, serotonin, and dopamine are the two major neurotransmitters involved in the sleep-wake cycle. Dopamine helps us relax by reducing norepinephrine, which keeps us alert in urgent situations.
Serotonin, meanwhile, is required to make melatonin, which engages receptors to encourage sleep. Serotonin also plays a key role in one’s internal clock, and it's heavily involved in promoting wakefulness and preventing REM, which is important for our energy levels throughout the day. One study indicates that gut microbiota may impact normal sleep patterns by assisting the production of serotonin.
The Link Between Immune Responses & Sleep
So, what happens that makes this connection between sleep and the gut go wrong? While there are plenty of potential causes for poor sleep, the immune system in the gut likely plays a big role.
In one pre-clinical study, researchers investigated the impact of sleep deprivation on gut microbiota composition. They found that sleep deprivation not only caused gut dysbiosis, but that that dysbiosis was responsible for the over-active immune response and cognitive effects associated with lack of sleep.
Additionally, one cross-sectional survey found a strong relationship between self-reported insomnia and the presence of gastrointestinal problems. This study found a nearly three-fold increased risk of GI tract problems in people with self-reported insomnia, even after adjusting for sex, age, self-perceived stress, and other factors.
While is it not the only cause, GI distress can be caused by gut dysbiosis, an imbalance in your gut's "good" and "bad" bacteria. When opportunistic microbes are detected by your body's defenses within the gut, an immune response is triggered, which can be localized to the gut, or spread to other locations in the body.
Gut dysbiosis is not uncommon and can occur because of several reasons, including:
- A sudden change in diet
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Extreme worry or stress
- The ingestion of unwanted chemicals (e.g., pesticides on produce)
- Certain medications and/or antibiotics
When we're supporting our gut health, we're strengthening it against sudden imbalances and shifts. This is where probiotics can play a major role.
Benefits of Probiotics for Sleep
While it's often perceived that all microorganisms make us sick, there are actually both good and bad microorganisms, especially when it comes to what lives in the gut. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that, when administered in adequate amounts, provide a health benefit on the host. Probiotics help our bodies in many ways, including protecting them from an excess of bad bacteria, which can help us feel better daily.
It's been indicated that the supplementation of probiotics can help us sleep better by supporting gut health and promoting beneficial bacteria. A review of human trials has indicated that probiotics may manage sleep quality and stress. Meanwhile, the results of one preclinical animal trial indicated that the probiotic strain L. fermentum PS150 helped mice fall asleep faster and stay asleep for longer periods.
Another pre-clinical trial in mice indicated that the probiotic PS150 reduces sleep disturbance caused by the First Night Effect (FNE), which is characterized by poor sleep quality caused by an unfamiliar environment. Of course, getting a good night's sleep is about more than gut health; it's also about practicing the right bedtime habits, known as good sleep hygiene.
The Importance of Good Sleep Hygiene
When we talk about sleep hygiene, we're referring to healthy sleep habits, whether in your routine or your environment. Sleep hygiene is founded on the idea that what we do in daily and evening hours can impact sleep quality. When we practice good sleep hygiene, we're raising our chances of a good night's sleep.
Here are some ways to boost your evening rest:
Have a Sleep Schedule
If you're going to bed at all hours of the night and sleeping in until noon on the weekends, it may be time to establish a proper sleep routine. Going to bed around the same time every night reinforces your body's circadian rhythm, making it easier for you to fall asleep and get up on a more consistent basis.
Power Off Electronics Before Bed
The screens on our devices emit blue light, which is found in sunlight, and it's known for establishing wakefulness in humans through the circadian rhythm.
In other words, our electronic devices may keep us awake for longer, so it's best to start powering down your tablet, laptop, TV, or smartphone at least one hour before bed. Instead, spend the time reading, drawing, or journaling, as these activities involve screenless, gentle stimulation to help you ease into a state of rest. Blue light-blocking glasses are also a great way to minimize screen exposure, as well as keeping the brightness on your screen relatively low. It’s also helpful to enable “night mode” in the settings of your devices.
Create the Space
Sleep hygiene is just as much about your environment as your habits. You’ve probably heard the old adage before: your bed should be reserved only for sleep and sex - in other words, avoid working on your bed, and try not to use your mattress as a space for clutter and laundry.
You can create the space for sleep even more by giving it "cave-like" qualities: cool, damp, and dark. Typically, humans benefit most from sleeping in a temperature between 60°F and 67°F. Investing in a humidifier may also be beneficial, especially in the wintertime. And if you live in a dry climate, a humidifier can benefit your sleep quality all year long.
What Are the Best Probiotics for Sleep?
It's clear that when we're taking care of our gut and sleeping habits, we have a higher likelihood of getting a good night's sleep. But if you've ever searched for probiotics before, there's one glaring fact you might have noticed at some point: there are many different types available, and they're all unique in their own way.
In one double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, for instance, 156 adults with depression, anxiety, and insomnia were given either a placebo or the two-strain probiotic NVP-1704. Throughout the study, participants were assessed with Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, Beck's Depression and Anxiety Inventory, Insomnia Severity Index, and the Stress Response Inventory at baseline, along with blood tests.
At the end of the trial, it was found that those in the probiotic group had both a greater reduction of stress and anxiety and a greater improvement in sleep than the control group. Meanwhile, a study of L. gasseri CP2305 found that the probiotic helped reduce symptoms of anxiety, which is a highly prevalent sleep deterrent.
So which probiotic is going to help you get some sleep?
Ultimately, this depends on the individual. Every one of us has our own unique body chemistry, genetic history, and sleep-related needs, meaning that what works for your co-worker or neighbor might not necessarily work for you. But when we look at research on specific probiotics for sleep, L. plantarum PS128 tends to stand out. At Bened Life, PS128 is the featured probiotic in Neuralli: the only clinically studied medical probiotic for neurological conditions.
In one clinical trial, it was found that taking PS128 daily led to both an improvement in sleep quality during the deep sleep stage and a decrease in depressive symptoms and fatigue.* Another clinical trial indicated that oral supplementation with PS128 may improve overall or job-related stress, mental health states, and sleep disturbance among highly stressed IT specialists.*
At Bened Life, we're here to help you reclaim your day, even if most of the work is happening at night. Learn more.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.