How Sleep Affects Digestion

Posted by Darian Dozier on Sep 15, 2023 2:54:00 PM

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Growling or twisting stomach right when you lie down for bed? Nothing is worse than a stomach going off like a marching band when you're trying to get a good night's rest. Even discomfort like heart burn tends to get started at night due to the force of gravity and your position in bed. These can all be uncomfortable situations that prevent you from getting a good night's rest. But, did you know that poor sleep can also affect digestion? Continue reading to learn more about this relationship, and determine if there are any changes you may need to make! 

Can a lack of sleep impact digestion?

The short answer is yes. There are various ways that a lack of sleep may affect your digestive health. Insufficient sleep can create changes in how much you eat and your digestive enzymes. 

One way that sleep can impact digestion is your appetite. The digestive system normally releases hormones that help you know when you're full or hungry. A lack of sleep can drive up release of the hormone known as ghrelin, that tells you you're hungry. Therefore, it's hard to manage your hunger and cravings when your brain is pumping out this insatiable hormone.  This is why you may notice that you eat more junk food when you're tired. Not only is your decision making impaired, but your body is craving those foods. 

Another way that a lack of sleep can impact digestion is by decreasing your drive to be physically active. Physical activity is important for boosting your metabolism and increasing fat burn. Without burning these calories, excess fat my accumulate in the mid-region of your body. A lack of sleep can make you less motivated to workout and increase your risk of injury.

Last, but not least, sleep can affect your gut health. The body's gastrointestinal tract consists of the stomach and the intestines. Your intestines house millions of bacteria that function to keep the body healthy. They ward off bad bacteria and help with the breakdown of complex carbs. Research is still learning about the relationship between intestinal microbiome, but current studies suggest that a reduction in healthy microbes in your gut could be due to a lack of sleep. 

How stomach problems affect sleep 

Many individuals with stomach problems also have poor sleep. This can be due to the uncomfortable symptoms that involve the GI tract, which make it more difficult to sleep at night. 

One of these problems is indigestion. Indigestion occurs during a meal and can cause mild discomfort at night. Associated symptoms include nausea, pain, and bloating. 

Irritable bowl syndrome is a condition that causes recurrent stomach pain and disruptions to usual bowel movements. Sleep problems affect a significant number of people with IBS. 

The last one is reflux, or GERD, which can happen when your stomach send some of the acid backwards into your esophagus. This creates a burning sensation in the middle of your chest, as well as the feeling that food is coming back up. 

These symptoms alone are uncomfortable enough to cause poor sleep quality, but experts are still working on figuring why this link exists. The main problem is that issues may interrupt sleep, and sleep may interrupt issues. 

Avoiding stomach problems when sleeping 

Your digestive tract is always going to be moving food through it, but it moves at a slower pace than when you are awake. Some things you can try to avoid interrupted sleep is to eat meals earlier in the evening, finish large meals two hours before bed, avoid late-night snacks, avoid foods that trigger indigestion or heartburn, chew your food thoroughly, and reduce or eliminate caffeine and alcohol intake. All of these tips give your body enough time to digest food before you lie down, while also work hard to not trigger excessive production of acid that can lead to heartburn. 

How to improve gut health for better sleep 

Improving your gut health may help you feel better overall, but can definitely help you get better sleep. There is good bacteria in your gut that keeps bad bacteria at bay. When bad bacteria begin to take over, this is when problems can arise. So, it's important to feed the good bacteria so your gut remains healthy. 

One way to do this is by prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are foods that have fiber and starch that only the good kinds of bacteria in your gut can digest. Some foods that have these properties include: 

  • pistachios 
  • barley 
  • onions 
  • legumes
  • artichokes

Probiotics, on the other hand, are products that have good bacteria themselves. They can either be purchased over the counter, or are consumed in foods with large number of healthy bacteria. These are often products that have been fermented and allowed to grow bacteria, including: 

  • kombucha 
  • pickles
  • yogurt
  • sauerkraut
  • miso 

Some people who eat both pre- and probiotics have reported improved sleep quality, but more research is needed to really explore if that relationship exists or not. 

Before making any major changes to your diet, please consult a nutritionist or sleep health expert. If you are struggling with your digestion and sleep, there may be an underlying issue deeper than making the bed. Please click the orange button below to take a free online sleep test and talk with one of our sleep health professionals. 

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Topics: GERD, sleep quality

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