GI Issues & Sleep: Can Lack Of Sleep Affect Gut Health?

Sleep tight, gut right.
GI Issues & Sleep: Can Lack Of Sleep Affect Gut Health?
Tom Greenspan
December 21, 2022

As a reader-supported website, we're able to keep it free. Buying something through a link on this page might earn us commissions. Thanks for that.

There is no denying the fact that sleep plays a crucial role in our well-being.

Proper sleep is necessary to maintain the circadian rhythm, which is also known as the body’s biological clock. Simply put, it is required to keep all of your physiological functions in check.

On that note, researchers have been studying the relationship between sleep and gut functions actively for a long time. And one of the primary areas of focus is the impact of GI issues and lack of sleep on the overall efficiency of these two systems.

So, in case you are wondering about the same thing, then you’ve come to the right place. Here, we have discussed in greater detail how these two functions are related. Dive in, then!

What Is The Connection Between Your Gut And The Brain?

To be honest, all the physiological functions of the body are interlinked, which means that the brain and the gut are connected as well. But the actual question is - how does this connection work? Well, the brain and gut communicate with each other in a number of ways, and these communication mechanisms affect your overall health. 

It is important to note that the gut-brain connection works both ways. The brain sends signals that affect your gut microbiome and influences different gastrointestinal (GI) systems like digestion and absorption. Conversely, the condition of your gut influences different brain functions like sleep, mood, and awareness.

With that being said, there are three different ways in which the gut and brain can influence each other, which are:

A. The Immune System

Both the gut and the brain interact with the immune system. Because of this reason, it acts as a communication pathway between these two organs.

B. Neurotransmitters

The cells in the brain and the gut influence the production of serotonin and other essential neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters, in turn, help to send signals between these two organs to control their functions.

C. The Vagus Nerve

This is the most effective communication channel that exists between the brain and the gut. The vagus nerve connects the brain to your gut directly. This means that the substances transmitted through this nerve can directly impact brain functions like sleep and vice versa.

Two of the three pathways mentioned above have a direct impact on your sleep functions. The serotonin neurotransmitter and the vagus nerve play an important role in sleep quality, which is why sleep plays a prominent role in the gut-brain communication system.

What Happens To Our Digestive System While We Are Asleep?

Our digestive system plays a crucial role in the body since it helps in breaking down and absorbing nutrients from the food we eat. This system consists of different interlinked organs, such as the gastrointestinal tract, liver, pancreas, and others. The first one, in particular, is the most important component since that is where most of the digestion and absorption processes take place.

Here, you should know that the process of digestion begins the moment you eat something. It is a continuous process that occurs at all times. That said, the rate of digestion slows down a little while sleeping.

It is a well-known fact that our body undergoes repairs while we are asleep, and the same can be said for the GI tract as well. During the sleep cycle, our body rebuilds any damage in the gut tissues and restores the gut microbiome to normal levels.

However, if you are suffering from any GI issues or have sleep disorders, this process gets adversely affected. As a result, you get poor sleep quality, and your digestive health takes a hit.

How Can GI Issues Affect Sleep?

There is a lot of scientific evidence to suggest that GI issues can affect sleep patterns. According to one study, the diversity of the gut microbiome correlates with better sleep patterns and vice versa. Similarly, disruptions in gut activity have been observed to cause sleeping disorders among people.

However, you don’t need to go through scientific research papers to corroborate the fact that gut health affects sleep. If you have ever suffered from any digestive issues at night, you might have already experienced this aspect the hard way!

Keeping that in mind, here are some major GI issues that can affect your sleep patterns.

1. Indigestion

Indigestion is a common gut problem that occurs if you eat something undesirable. It is often accompanied by symptoms like bloating, pain, or nausea and causes mild discomfort while sleeping.

2. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

This is another common digestive problem that is characterized by unusual bowel movements. Irritable bowel syndrome patients have to deal with issues like stomach cramps, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, gas, and bloating. Because of that, sleep duration and quality become severely affected.

3. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

GERD is a condition where liquid from the stomach moves up through the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach) into your throat and mouth. This liquid consists of water and stomach acids, and it causes severe irritation in your digestive system. Furthermore, it causes nausea and heartburn that can keep you up all night.

How Does Sleep Affect Digestion And Gut Health?

Just like GI issues impact your sleep patterns, the reverse situation is also possible. If you suffer from sleep deprivation or other similar issues, your digestive processes will be severely hampered. In this regard, lack of sleep may affect your digestive system in a number of ways, as discussed below.

1. Changes In Appetite

Under normal circumstances, your digestive system releases hormones that make you feel hungry or full at certain times of the day. If you do not get enough sleep, it will result in drastic changes in your appetite. This is because poor sleep quality affects how and when these hormones are released.

Consequently, you might feel full, which will reduce your food intake throughout the day. The opposite can also happen, where you will feel excessively hungry at all times. That, in turn, will increase your food intake and overload your digestive system.

Apart from that, you may get untimely cravings that can disrupt your digestive and sleep cycles. For instance, you might suddenly feel hungry in the middle of the night, or you might feel like eating only a single type of food.

2. Inflammation Of The Gut

Inflammation is a condition that is closely associated with the body’s immune system. In that context, a recent study has suggested that sleep abnormalities can lead to inflammation in the gut. A lack of sleep reduces the effectiveness of your immune system, due to which it cannot regulate the functions of pro-inflammatory substances present in your gut properly.

As such, it leads to chronic inflammatory conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). In this condition, the inner linings of your large and small intestines become inflamed and develop sores and ulcers, which leads to abdominal pain. Not only that, but it also slows down the digestive process and makes you feel bloated and nauseous.

3. Disruption Of The Gut Microbiome

The body’s GI tract consists of the small and large intestines, and each of these maintains a micro-ecosystem of its own. This microbiome is home to millions of beneficial bacteria that help with the digestion process. More specifically, they help in processing the food and absorbing the nutrients, among other things. So, if this microbiome becomes affected, the efficiency of the digestion process will be decreased. 

As we have mentioned before, proper sleep helps to restore the gut microbiome. This is possible because of the lowered digestion rate while sleeping, which allows the gut bacteria to multiply. Thus, if you get insufficient sleep, the gut bacteria will not be able to proliferate quickly, which will negatively impact gut health and digestion.

4. Increase In Gastrointestinal Diseases

A recent study conducted by scientists has revealed that irregular sleep patterns have a direct correlation with GI issues like IBS, GERD, and even colon cancer. In other words, a sleep-deprived individual is more vulnerable to developing such problems than a person who has a healthy sleep cycle.

Different substances are released when we sleep, which help in protecting the gut against such issues. However, if you don’t get adequate sleep, your body won't be able to produce these substances in sufficient amounts, thereby making your gut vulnerable.

5. Higher Risk Of Lifestyle Diseases

Besides the various gut disorders mentioned above, a lack of proper sleep increases the risks of developing chronic lifestyle diseases too. These include problems like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, all of which can severely impact your overall well-being.

How Can You Improve Sleep And Gut Health?

Now that you know how gut health is linked to sleep, you might be wondering - how can they be improved? Well, that’s what this section is all about! Here we have mentioned a few tips and strategies that you can use to ensure a healthy gut and proper sleep schedule.

1. Create And Maintain A Routine

Generally, the sleep deprivation problem is caused due to unhealthy or erratic lifestyles. So, if you make a healthy daily routine and stick to it, you can manage your sleep problems to a great extent. That will simultaneously take care of digestion issues by allowing your gut to heal properly.

2. Develop Good Dietary Habits

In addition to maintaining a daily activity routine, you need to maintain a good diet schedule too. This means that you have to get rid of all your unhealthy habits, like snacking at odd times or eating at irregular intervals throughout the day. 

Instead, you should prioritize having the proper meals at set times, such as an early morning breakfast, an afternoon lunch, and an evening dinner. Also, you should avoid overeating before going to bed at night. This will keep your gut healthy and ensure you get good sleep.

3. Eat Nutritious Food

It goes without saying that the quality of the food you eat plays a major role in your well-being. So, instead of eating junk foods, you should try to eat healthy, probiotic items like yogurt or buttermilk to improve gut health. 

You can also include fiber-rich food items like carrots, broccoli, nuts, or legumes in your diet. They will help to strengthen your gut microbiota and improve bowel movements noticeably. Moreover, recent research has shown that such food items can increase the duration of restorative slow-wave sleep, which allows your body to recuperate.

4. Exercise Regularly

Everyone knows that exercise is beneficial for our health. Regular exercise keeps cortisol levels in check, and it aids in the release of endorphins. For those who do not know, the former is known as a stress hormone, while the latter is a mood-elevating hormone. 

In short, it helps in mitigating hormonal disturbances and improving mental health and sleep quality. Besides, physical activity improves the efficiency of the digestive tract and allows you to fall asleep faster.

Final Words

Of course, there are still a lot of factors that need to be explored through further research. But based on what we already know, it can be clearly implied that lack of sleep negatively impacts your gut health. Conversely, the emergence of GI issues can lead to poor-quality sleep.

In essence, you can say that your gut function has a deep connection to sleep, as we have highlighted several times throughout this discussion. That is why, for the sake of your health, you should make sure that neither of these processes is disrupted.

This is where you will find the tips and strategies to be useful. Sure, there are several other tips that you can follow, such as improving the ambiance of your bedroom or drinking plenty of water. But the ones we have mentioned above will give you the best results.