Here’s part 2 of my article on sleep deprivation. Be sure to read part 1 first. This time we’ll focus on your gut health, as well as address some natural treatment options.
The Brain-Gut Connection
Serotonin is our first player. This little guy not only affects your mood but makes you sleepy as well. However, your gut makes more Serotonin than your brain. In fact, it produces 85% of your total serotonin.
Consequently, you can literally ‘feel’ with your gut. Not only that, but your gut is made of the same stuff as your brain; as a result, there’s a strong connection between the two.
So, mood and emotions have a strong influence on your digestive system. That’s why you get that ‘butterflies in the stomach’ feeling when you’re nervous or anxious about something. In fact, your gut is considered your ‘second brain’.
Therefore, anxiety can cause intestinal distress, and intestinal distress can cause stress or anxiety. Not only that, but stress and anxiety can even make inflammation worse, and/or make you more susceptible to infection.
Interestingly, low levels of Serotonin can be the cause of Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS, and some studies showed women tend to have lower levels of serotonin than men.
Our second player is bacteria. And while we usually think of bacteria as causing disease, many are absolutely essential for your health.
Let’s take a look.
Gut Health and Sleep
There’s a whole lot of good bacteria in your gut called probiotics. These little guys help regulate hormones which not only improve your health but also help you sleep.
These good bacteria can also increase levels of melatonin, which is your brains’ natural sleep aide. They do this by increasing levels of an amino acid called tryptophan, which is also found in certain foods. I’ll address this under ‘Treatments’
Additionally, your gut, just like your brain has a daily cycle. But if that cycle is disrupted, it can cause heart disease or even cancer. So sleep deprivation can have some serious side effects.
And because women experience more variations in their digestive system throughout their life, they are more susceptible to IBS and other diseases, even without sleep deprivation.
With that in mind, here are some food items that can make irritable bowel syndrome worse:
- Fried fatty foods, large meals.
- Chocolate, alcohol, caffeine.
- Fructose, sorbitol, carbonated drinks.
- High fiber, especially the insoluble kind.
- Dairy products, especially cheese.
Lifestyle and Sleep Deprivation
I’ve talked with many patients in my sleep lab, and I hear over and over again that they use t.v for ‘white noise’; or “I can’t get to sleep without the t.v. because it’s too quiet”. They claim they sleep better with it.
However, light interferes with sleep by resetting your internal clock, even if your eyes are closed. So if you believe you can’t sleep without the t.v., think again.
While you need a certain amount of sleep, taking a nap will reduce the amount of sleep you’ll need for the coming night. This can ultimately lead to fragmented sleep and insomnia.
So if you’re laying in bed, and for some reason can’t get to sleep, get out of bed (and even the bedroom), and go sit in a chair or something. The bedroom should only be associated with sleep and sex.
Some of the more common medications prescribed for insomnia are Ambien, Sonata, and Lunesta. Also, the class of antidepressants that increase levels of Serotonin are proving beneficial in the treatment of IBS.
However, behavioral therapies have been proven as effective, if not more so, than medication for treating sleep deprivation. In fact, studies show that behavioral therapies remain effective even after treatments are stopped.
Let’s have a look at some of these treatments, shall we?
First up, Cognitive Behavior Therapy or CBT.
CBT is basically changing the patterns of thinking or behavior. First of all, you need to identify the underlying cause of your insomnia. This involves keeping a sleep journal for a couple weeks. Then techniques include:
- stimulus control
- sleep hygiene
- sleep restriction
- relaxation techniques
And while mild exercise before bedtime encourages sleep, rigorous exercise creates endorphins that can hinder sleep.
Foods that contain Tryptophan include:
- Nuts, seeds, tofu cheese
- Red meat, chicken, turkey, fish
- Oats, beans, lentils, and eggs.
For Irritable Bowel Syndrome, there’s no standard treatment because symptoms of IBS have different causes. Knowing this, keep a food diary, because what might not affect someone else may affect you.
In general, however, foods to eat include:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Starchy carbohydrates, such as pasta, potatoes, bread, and rice.
- Some protein foods, like fish and eggs.
- Drink plenty of water, including herbal teas.
So, it seems that good quality sleep is more important than good quality awake time. And while many people think that depression and anxiety cause insomnia, the reverse might actually be the case.
Also, what you eat can affect your sleep, for better, or worse, and this is especially true for women.
Therefore, if you find yourself going in and out of sleep, waking early and not being able to return to sleep; and also feeling tired throughout the day, there’s hope. However, it will mean a lifestyle, and possibly a diet change.
And change can be hard work, but well worth a healthier life.