Can Probiotics Help Me Get Better Sleep?

Many of us have the love-hate relationship with turning the clocks back: we get an extra hour to fill up any way we want it (love) but darkness rapidly descends like a heavy stage curtain in the late afternoons (hate). 


But one hour can also throw us all out of sleep balance. Whether you are a morning person or a night person, the one hour impacts the delicate circadian rhythm. Leave the melatonin sleep formulas aside for the time being and consider how adjusting your microbiome with probiotics can help your body better adjust to sleep and get better quality sleep, too.


The circadian rhythm is a somewhat mystical sounding term, but it describes the innate 24-hour sleep-wake cycle of mammals, either nocturnal (active at night, sleep during the daylight) or diurnal (like us, awake in daylight, sleepy at night). The process of getting sleepy and awakening is mapped out and executed by a series of hormone releases/pulses and other processes. Central to this is the natural production and release of melatonin by the pineal gland – an action that only happens when the night has fallen. 


Although melatonin in the most recognized agent in sleep, there are other naturally produced compounds involved in the sleep/wake cycle process. According to the National Institutes of Health, these include Period and Cryptochrome genes. These genes code for proteins that build up in the cell’s nucleus at night and lessen during the day. Studies suggest that these proteins help generate the sensations of wakefulness, alertness, and sleepiness. However, signals from the environment also affect circadian rhythms. For example, exposure to light at a different time of day can reset when the body activates the Period and Cryptochrome genes.


At first blush, the extra hour of reverting back to Standard Time seems like a gift. But, according to one source, “Researchers have also noted negative effects that occur during the transition from DST to Standard Time in November. In addition to sleep loss, people are at greater risk of mood disturbance, and being involved in traffic accidents during both bi-annual transition periods.”

This situation is often exacerbated by other factors, such as social, behavioral and environmental, that disrupt sleep.

The Gut Microbiome Factor

If you are experiencing sleep difficulties that may be triggered by the onset of standard time, your gut microbiome may likely be involved. 


Beyond containing trillions of bacteria, the gut microbiome contains in excess of 100 million neurons and it also releases neurotransmitters also found in the brain, hence – the “gut-brain-axis.” Interestingly, we often think of serotonin as being housed in the brain, but most of it is created in the gut. When stress is experienced – such as a time change – populations of bacteroides and lactobacilli are reduced in the gut, creating or worsening dysbiosis.

 

Authors of one review explain that sleep disruptions and sleep deficits are associated with gut dysbiosis that is often created by activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis (of which the gut-brain-axis is a part). They write, “Metabolic disturbances associated with sleep loss may be mediated through the overgrowth of specific gut bacteria. Reciprocally, the end products of bacterial species which grow in response to sleep loss are able to induce fatigue. Furthermore, probiotic supplementation has been found to improve subjective sleep quality. Sleep quality and duration may be an important target for supporting healthy gut microbiota composition.”


So, the relationship between the composition of your gut microbiome and sleep is pretty strong. In fact, sleep and your diurnal rhythm is impacted directly by the microbiome; its metabolic activity, gene expression and bacteria content are tied to circadian genes. 


A meta-analysis of 14 studies (20 trials) investigating the roles of probiotics and parabiotics in sleep metrics yielded evidence that adjusting the microbiome with supplementation may help support better sleep quality.  They found that probiotics/paraprobiotics supplementation significantly reduced Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) score (which means an improved sleep quality) relative to baseline. They also found that the magnitude of the effect was greater from a single strain rather than multiple strain supplement, and when the duration of treatment was longer than 8 weeks. They concluded that “probiotics/paraprobiotics supplementation may have some efficacy in improving perceived sleep health, measured using the PSQI.”


There are other studies recently performed in the endeavor to more solidly understand the link between the gut microbiome and sleep patterns. One team investigated how disturbed sleep may regulate the balance in the microbiota. In their study, the researchers mimicked the sleep-wake cycle shift in participants. The results of this study indicate that the acute circadian rhythm disturbance caused by sleep-wake shifts affect the human gut microbiota, especially the functional profiles of gut microbes and interactions among them. 


In their study the researchers assert, “Disturbances of sleep and the underlying circadian rhythm are related to many human diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, and cognitive impairments. Dysbiosis of the gut microbiome has also been reported to be associated with the pathologies of these diseases.” 


Similarly, researchers in another study hypothesized that circadian disruption alters the gut microbiota in humans, and this contributes to a state of inflammation. Inflammation is a key characteristic of risk of disease. 


Tips to Fall Back But Keep Your Sleep

Many people are sensitive to that one extra hour and say that they “feel it” on Monday and even all that next week. There are easy and common-sense practices you can follow even after daylight savings time ends this year.


Praveen Rudraraju, MD, medical director of Northern Westchester Hospital’s Center for Sleep Medicine provides the following advice:


  • Spend some time outdoors, which is always healthy. 
  • Dim the lights in the evening; soft lighting helps your body prepare for sleep.
  • Don't consume caffeinated beverages after noon, and eat dinner at least three to five hours before bedtime.
  • Limit alcohol to one drink with dinner.
  • Eliminate brain-stimulating computer and phone activity, unplug, an hour or so before bed. 
  • Stay out of your bedroom until bedtime. If possible, do not work in your bedroom.
  • Forgo the second glass of wine after dinner; it may lull you to sleep but alcohol is known to disrupt sleep and cause significant thirst that wakes you up.

 

Conclusion

Change can be challenging even if it’s anticipated; and the seasonal shift in time may have many grumbling. But if you place your sleep as a priority, and follow easy steps, you can ensure your gut microbiome and circadian rhythm are in harmony to help bring on the zzzzs.

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