Sleep and Gut Health: How They Affect Each Other and Your Energy
Updated: Mar 15, 2021
How you eat, when you eat and what you eat can be a powerful tool to optimize your sleep. Or if your nutrition and digestion are not optimized, it can go the other way and cause sleep issues leading to low energy during the day. Your gut health impacts your sleep and your sleep impacts your gut health. And...it all affects your energy levels!
In Chinese medicine, it is well established that everything starts in the gut. This is because the nutrients that support every process in your body are assimilated and processed in the gut. It is basically ground zero for determining the health of all other functions of your body. Gut dysbiosis, which is an imbalance of the gut bacteria, can cause sleep disruption. If you are having sleep issues, first look at your gut health to determine if that could be the culprit.
The Role of the Digestive System in Providing Energy
Your digestive system begins in your mouth and ends where the waste from your food exits your body. It includes your mouth, spleen, stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, small intestine, and large intestine or colon. This complex system is responsible for converting food into energy and interacts with all other body systems. In addition to the organs that are involved in digestion, emotions, stress levels and the balance of your endocrine and nervous systems also affect the function of your digestion.
Good digestion is the foundation of good health. How well we digest and process the food and nutrients that we feed ourselves has a huge impact on our health and energy levels as well as the quality of our sleep. If you are not properly assimilating and utilizing the nutrients that you are putting in, then your body does not have the tools that it needs to function properly.
When your digestion is not working properly it can throw off every single system in your body. When you improve your digestion, your energy levels improve, you have clearer skin, your immune system is strengthened and you feel healthy and strong.
The health of your gut is tied to so many important processes and one that is majorly important is sleep. You must be getting the right amount of deep, restorative quality sleep that your body and brain need to function properly and perform all of the healing and detoxifying processes necessary to keep you healthy and well-balanced.
Blood-Sugar Balance and Sleep
A common culprit affecting sleep and wake cycles is unregulated blood sugar levels. The ability to regulate blood sugar levels is a major factor in getting deep, restorative sleep. Blood sugar regulation can make a huge difference in cognitive performance, emotional regulation and overall health.
It is important to manage your blood sugar with the food that you are eating at every meal. If you are not getting enough healthy carbs, for example if you follow a keto diet, it can affect your sleep. Protein is also important for blood sugar regulation. Tryptophan, which is an essential amino acid which must be supplied by the diet, is the building block for melatonin which is necessary to fall asleep at night and stay asleep. You need enough protein throughout the day so your levels don't dip at night when you are trying to sleep causing you to wake up in the middle of the night. Healthy fats are also necessary to include with all of your meals to help stabilize blood sugar.
Calorie Restriction and Sleep
If you are under-eating or restricting calories, meaning less than 1500 calories per day for women, it can cause a reduction in slow-wave sleep. Slow-wave sleep is where you produce about 70% of your growth hormone which is responsible for building tissues. If you aren't getting enough calories, then you are triggering your body that you won't need the growth hormone because you are not building tissues. Growth hormone is also essential for many other functions such as bone mineral density, decreasing fat mass, improving lean body mass and anti-aging. So, it's necessary to achieve that slow- wave sleep cycle to produce it. You will not get the benefits of growth hormone and slow-wave sleep if you are not consuming enough calories.
Action Steps to Support A Healthy Gut and Deep Sleep
Avoid foods that you know cause you digestive upset like gas and bloating. This can have an affect on the quality of your sleep. Poor sleep affects not only your energy levels the next day, but the function of your digestive system as well. It can be a vicious cycle once this gets out of balance.
Lack of sleep affects the healthy bacteria that are absolutely necessary for balance in your gut microbiome. Make it a priority to get 7-9 hours of deep, quality sleep every night. You can truly impact your health by the amount of sleep you get.
If you supplement with multivitamins and minerals, take the multivitamins in the morning and the minerals in the evening.
Eat your biggest, heaviest meal earlier in the day and your lightest meal at night before 7 pm. Try to keep a 12 hour window between your last meal of the day and your first meal the next day. For example, eat dinner by 7 pm and breakfast the next day no earlier than 7 am.
Each meal should consist of a combination of healthy fats, protein, healthy carbs and fiber to keep your blood sugar balanced and avoid crashing later in the day. Start your day with a breakfast of eggs with vegetables and an avocado. Another option would be a protein smoothie with greens, like baby spinach, and a spoonful of coconut oil.
Add 1-2 tablespoons of healthy fats, like ghee, coconut oil or olive oil, to all of your meals to help stabilize your blood sugar.
Vitamin D is necessary for quality sleep and many people are deficient. Getting outside into sunlight for 15-20 minutes, twice a day can help you achieve optimal levels.
Eat only real, whole organic foods while avoiding processed sugars, refined carbs, artificial sweeteners, chemicals and refined oils.
Help your body begin the digestion process by taking your time to sit down to eat and chewing slowly. Don't drink water or drinks with your meal or 30 minutes before or after eating.
Have caffeinated beverages, coffee or tea, no later than 12 pm or avoid altogether.
If you are having sleep issues, first look at your gut health to determine if that could be the culprit. Then eat to balance your blood sugar levels and see if that could be affecting your sleep. It may take a little time to figure out and then correct it, but once you are getting deep, restorative sleep and have abundant energy and feel great during the day it is so worth it!
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About the Author
Kristi Ryan is the founder of Kristi Ryan Holistic Nutrition and the creator of the Abundant Energy Method for Busy Women. As a holistic nutrition and health coach specializing in energy wellness she supports, educates, motivates and empowers busy women with nutrition, mindset and lifestyle transformation using her proven methodology to bring abundant energy and vitality into their lives.
Disclaimer: The information I share is for general information only and is not intended to replace medical advice. I do not diagnose, treat or cure disease, prescribe treatments or medications, or recommend medical treatment or surgery. You should speak to your physician prior to making any changes to your diet, lifestyle, exercise or medications or acting on anything you have read or discussed with me. If you don’t, you are doing so at your own risk.
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