Ever notice how some days you wake up feeling more sleepy than before you went to bed? Getting a good night's sleep isn't just about putting your head on the pillow, it's also about putting the right foods on your plate. Let's take a look into the complex connection between circadian rhythms and gut health.
Our bodies are intricate systems that follow natural rhythms; these rhythms - circadian rhythms - dictate our sleep-wake cycles, hormone production, and even our digestive processes. It's not just what we eat that matters for gut health, but also when we eat. In this article, we will delve into the fascinating connection between circadian rhythms, digestion, and gut health, exploring how meal timing and sleep cycles influence the gut microbiome and our overall wellbeing.
The Gut Microbiome and Circadian Rhythms
The gut microbiome, the collection of trillions of microorganisms residing in our intestines, plays a crucial role in digestion, nutrient absorption, and even immune function. Recent research has revealed an intriguing link between the gut microbiome and circadian rhythms. Studies have shown that the composition and activity of the gut microbiome follow a daily rhythm, influenced by our body's internal clock. One study found that a whopping 60% of our microbiome composition fluctuates over a 24-hour period, and poor eating habits and irregular sleep patterns can result in more pronounced imbalances. That's why timing is everything.
The timing of our meals appears to impact how efficiently our bodies process food. Our digestive organs, like the liver and pancreas, have their own internal clocks that regulate their functions. Consuming meals during the optimal windows of digestive activity can enhance nutrient absorption and energy utilisation.
For instance, breakfast is often referred to as the "most important meal of the day" because it kickstarts our metabolism after a period of fasting during sleep. Eating breakfast within a couple of hours after waking can help synchronise our internal clocks, supporting better digestion and overall metabolic health.
Evening meals, on the other hand, should be consumed well before bedtime to allow for proper digestion. Eating too close to bedtime can disrupt sleep patterns and negatively impact gut health.
Sleep Cycles and Gut Restoration
Sleep is a vital component of our circadian rhythms and plays a significant role in gut health. During sleep, the body engages in essential restorative processes, including gut repair and maintenance. The gut epithelial cells, which line the digestive tract, undergo repair and turnover during the night, ensuring the integrity of the gut barrier. Disrupted sleep, such as late nights or irregular sleep schedules, can compromise these repair processes. This can lead to increased gut permeability (leaky gut) and inflammation, potentially contributing to digestive issues and a range of health problems.
Hacking Your Circadian Rhythm to Improve Gut Health
Stay consistent: Aim for regular meal times each day to support your body's internal clock. Avoid late-night eating, and give your body ample time to digest before bedtime.
Reduce your sugar intake: When we eat fructose, especially in ultra-processed foods void of fibre, we end up with a spike in our blood-sugar levels, which in turn triggers the release of insulin to bring those levels back down. While this might not seem like a big deal, it can actually have a significant impact on our sleep. When our blood-sugar levels drop rapidly, our bodies release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to compensate. This can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. In addition, sugar can disrupt the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle. Without enough melatonin, we may struggle to feel drowsy when it's time for bed. But it doesn’t stop there! Sugar can also cause inflammation in the body, which can also cause unstable hormone productions, with far-reaching effects into our sleeping, eating and waking cycles. Sugar can also disrupt the quality of our Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, and this stage of the sleep cycle is essential for cognitive function, learning, and memory consolidation. It’s also important that we complete the REM cycle in order to have a quality sleep, and the research shows that excess sugar consumption may well throw a spanner in the works here, finding that those who ate more sugary, processed foods had disrupted sleep, and therefore a disrupted day. So, the verdict is in – sugar is a sleep nightmare! Pun intended.
Prioritise Sleep: Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. Establish a consistent sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same times, even on weekends.
Light Exposure: Expose yourself to natural light during the day and minimise exposure to artificial light, especially blue light, in the evening. This helps regulate your body's internal clock. Blue lights suppress our natural secretion of the “sleep hormone”, melatonin – we need this hormone to keep our circadian rhythm in balance. This rhythm is responsible for our sleeping and waking functions. With Aussies spending an average of 5.5 hours on their mobile phone screens alone, it’s safe to say we have a bit of a problem. To make matters worse, screens and lighting are only getting brighter with an influx of ultra-bright efficient lights, along with high-quality computer and phone screen displays. While they might look good, that’s where the benefits stop. While some blue light is fine – in fact, blue light is produced naturally from the sun – most of us are getting overdosed with hours of exposure each day. Research has found a direct link between this overexposure and sleep inertia – so it’s worth changing your habits. Here are a few ways to limit your exposure:
- Buy a pair of blue-light glasses:
- Reduce screen time
- Go for red light: Unlike blue light, studies have found red light may actually prevent sleep inertia. So, it could be worth switching your LED lights for some red-light lamps.
- Mindful Eating: Pay attention to your body's hunger and fullness cues. Eat slowly and savour your meals, allowing your digestive system to work efficiently.
Gut health starts with what you put on your plate. Need a little help? That’s what we’re here for. Our ALL NEW 21-Day Gut Rebalance Program kicks off soon with delicious, nourishing recipes and exclusive expert content to support you on your way to better health. Whether it's constipation, bloating or even stress that's got you down, it could be your gut warning you that you're missing out on the gut-nourishing foods that help us thrive. We'll show you the ins and outs of healing, from the benefits of probiotics and prebiotics to the inflammation-busting foods you should be eating. Take a look at some of the exciting new recipes on the program:
- Pork Kimchi Dumplings
- Homemade Sourdough Bread
- Miso-Baked Salmon
- Tempeh Satay
- Chinese Beef + Broccoli
- Chocolate Chia Smoothie Bowl
And that's not even scratching the surface! We're selling out fast so don't wait, sign up now!