If you’re having trouble sleeping during these anxious days, you’re not alone! #cantsleep has been trending on Twitter for the last week. As we enter the third week of lockdown, stress is beginning to affect mental health and sleep for many of us.
Sleep and mental health are closely connected – and they’re both tied to your gut health. Your gut microbiome, made up of trillions of living organisms, has been shown to affect not only your digestion, metabolism and immune function; it also regulates your sleep and mental state through something called the “gut-brain axis.”1
Serotonin is the neurochemical that regulates both your mood and your and sleep patterns.2 95% of your serotonin is produced inside your gut, by a tiny number of specialist cells called enterochromaffin cells.3
Damage to your gut microbiome from stress, alcohol, sugar or a low-fibre diet, can damage your serotonin system, resulting in mood disorders like increased anxiety, as well as a disruption of your sleep pattern.4
At this time it’s more important than ever to strengthen your immune system. We know that one of the best ways to do this, is to get a good night’s sleep.5
But how can we stay healthy, by getting a good night’s sleep – when our anxiety about getting sick is keeping us awake?
There are good reasons why we as a nation are not sleeping well right now.
Changes in routine are one reason; going to bed later, because you don’t have to get up early for work, is a major disruption in your sleep schedule. Days are more stressful because everyone is trying to adapt to working from home, and many people are trying to home school children alongside their work.
Then there’s always the possibility that you’re drinking more than usual – and alcohol, despite what you may think, is actually detrimental to sleep. It might knock you out initially, but overall it is disruptive to sleep, particularly in the second half of the night.6
You might also be exercising less than usual, and missing your normal downtime – you can’t read a book or go for lunch with a friend as you used to. And maybe – just maybe – your adored family is starting to drive you crazy, after weeks in close proximity to one another! Add a splash of surly teens, whining youngsters or bickering partners into the mix, and you get a big cauldron of no-sleep-itis.
Then there’s the fact that we’re all plain worried. Will we get sick? Will someone we love get sick? How about our jobs, and the economy? There’s a lot of genuine and justifiable anxiety swirling around.
So how can you sleep more soundly?
1. Nail down your sleep routine.
Sleep is regulated by our internal body clock, called the circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is controlled by your gut bugs.7 And those little critters love regularity!
The circadian rhythm regulates our body’s energy expenditure, appetite and sleep. In simple terms, it is our internal clock. Under normal conditions, people get around seven hours of sleep per night. Then, as you wake, your body warms up, using up energy as you move around and carry out your daily functions. Your body needs food during the day to give you this energy, then at night-time, it fasts and goes to sleep.8
In an ideal world, we would all go to bed at 10 pm and get up at 6 am – this aligns our sleep patterns most closely to the natural rhythm of light. If you can’t manage this, come as close as possible; at the very least, develop your own routine in which you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. It sounds simple, but it will reset your body clock and ensure better sleep. Remember to “darken down” two hours before bed, switching off all screens.
2. Eat your meals at the same time every day
Like children, your gut bugs thrive on structure and a regular schedule. They like to know when their meals are coming. Researchers noted that there are rhythms to the gut microbiota: a strain called Firmicutes increases during feeding periods, and then decreases over time during the day. Some gut bacteria such as Bacteroidetes, Proteobacteria and Verrucomicrobia are more present during fasting periods, and then bacteria that feed on fiber grow at night as food residues reach the colon.9
No caffeine after lunch, and drink in moderation. Just because you’re in lockdown doesn’t mean you should have a glass of wine at 3pm! When faced with stress it’s easy to start drinking too much caffeine, alcohol, eating more than usual or smoking. But these things will disturb your sleep and also lower your immunity.
3. Take probiotics
Recent science shows that sleep quality also seems to benefit from probiotic supplementation. Researchers reported an improvement in sleep quality in academic students during a period of increasing stress after 11 weeks of probiotics consumption.10 Beneficial effects of probiotics were also reported in studies involving clinical populations; anxiety in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome was reduced after 2 months of probiotics intake.11 Overall, these studies suggest that probiotics administration might be used to improve mood, sleep, cognitive functions and emotional processing.12 You can source probiotic kefir here.
4. Eat more fibre, less sugar and less saturated fat
Research published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine showed that eating less fibre, and more sugar and saturated fat throughout the day made for a poor night’s sleep. Typically, there’s a balance of light, easily disrupted sleep, and deeper “slow-wave sleep” each night. Both are part of a normal sleep cycle, but it’s the second, deeper kind that does all the restoration work necessary to make sure you’re fresh and rested for the day ahead. The study concluded that the more energy you get from saturated fat and sugar, the less slow-wave sleep you clock, and the more likely you are to wake up in the middle of the night. Sugar and saturated fat may interfere with the brain’s production of serotonin, which you need for sleep.
Diets that are generally higher in fibre predicted a greater amount of deep sleep throughout the night. The researchers aren’t sure exactly how fibre works its magic, but it may be linked to the glycemic index, the rate at which your body breaks down carbs and transforms them into sugar.13 You can source a high-fibre Complete Prebiotic here.
Do you have any health or nutrition questions during lockdown? Have a free live chat with one of our Nutritional Therapists. Just click the purple chat icon to start.