How does sleep deprivation affect your gut?

30% of the UK population suffer from sleep deprivation [1] and the consequences can be extreme. Cognition and mental health can worsen, performance and productivity can drop and the likelihood of severe health issues such as strokes rises. But what does it do to your gut?

Sleep and circadian disruption in humans alter the gut microbiome, leaving individuals who are deprived of sleep susceptible to inflammatory issues and metabolic diseases due to the worsened condition of their gut.

Sleep researchers at Uppsala University in Sweden have compared the effects of varying levels of sleep on the gut bacteria of individuals. The limited study suggested that after just two nights of reduced sleep participants’ levels of certain strains of bacteria significantly decreased – some by nearly 50% [2]. This is a dramatic drop and the harmony between good and bad bacteria in the gut can shift and quickly become unbalanced. This may be the reason behind why employees who do shift work, for example, can have issues with their metabolism and suffer other health drawbacks due to the impact limited sleep has on their gut microbiome [3].

The effect of having a diversity of gut bacteria on the efficiency of sleep

We now know the effect limited sleep has on our gut and how the consequences of this can be serious, however, it’s not all doom and gloom. The link between gut health and sleep deprivation is a two-way relationship and taking care of your gut can be hugely beneficial to your sleep.

Studies from a number of American Universities [4] have found that microbiome diversity is positively correlated with sleep efficiency and total sleep time. It’s also negatively correlated with sleep fragmentation. In other words, the results suggest that the diversity of the gut microbiome promotes healthier sleep. These recent University studies measured sleep over an extended period of time (one month). Over this time period, the greater diversity of the bacteria directly correlated with an improvement in sleep performance.

How can I condition my gut to help improve my sleep?

There are a number of ways you can improve your gut health and boost your sleep accordingly. Some lifestyle alterations that improve gut health include [5]

1. Staying away from processed foods

Substituting fatty and sugary foods with fruit, vegetables and whole grains will greatly improve the health of your gut and consequently improve your sleep.

2. Eating organic where possible

The presence of fertilisers in foods has been linked with being harmful to the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Eating organic eliminates this risk, so look to buy organic for items you regularly consume.

3. Consuming a variety of fruit and vegetables

Having variation in the vegetables and fruit we eat is massively beneficial to the microbiome composition. There is a direct link between eating a wide range of fruit and vegetables and the diversity of the bacteria in our gut.

4. Not eating too close to bedtime

Just like us, our digestive system needs a rest too. Eating late at night will lead to your digestive system working overtime. In moderation, eating bananas, whole grain bread/cereals will not affect sleep but eating unhealthy fatty foods late at night will have noticeable consequences on sleep quality.

5. Taking Prebiotics

Prebiotics are a simple and effective way to improve your quality of sleep without presenting any dramatic lifestyle changes. Foods high in prebiotics include lentils, chickpeas and leeks but you would have to consume a large number of them to have a noticeable effect. Professor Phillip Burnet from the University of Oxford considers that a [prebiotic] supplement is probably 100 times more effective than the bowl of hummus.”

Prebiotics link to sleep performance

It was hypothesised by a study done by the University of Colorado, that prebiotics may be the key to having a good night’s sleep. Their study intrigued Dr Michael Mosley, who as an insomniac himself, was carrying out research for his BBC documentary “The Truth About: Sleep” at the time of the study.

Dr Mosley decided to test the theory out for himself in the documentary [6] which first aired in May 2017; he took Bimuno® DAILY powder, for 5 days and discovered that Bimuno impacted the quality of his sleep, reducing the time spent awake by 13%.

At the end of the 5-day trial, Dr Mosley was certainly starting to notice the effects which ended up in the supplement being given a 9 out of 10 for effectiveness and improving his sleep.** Bimuno Daily was the only prebiotic supplement he took during the documentary.

After 5 days of taking Bimuno, Dr Mosley's sleep efficiency increased from 79% to 92%.

In Summary

You can look after your gut health very easily by eating organically, cutting out processed foods and taking prebiotics. Making these simple lifestyle changes leads to the thriving of good bacteria in your gut.

The diversity of this bacteria leads to:

  • Less fragmentation of sleep
  • Longer sleep duration
  • Better sleep efficiency

** In the programme Dr Mosley found that his sleep patterns improved while he was taking Bimuno® DAILY powder. It should be noted that no formal clinical investigations have been conducted to assess the impact of this supplement on sleep patterns.


[1] NHS: Sleep problems in the UK

[2] Gut microbiota and glucometabolic alterations in response to recurrent partial sleep deprivation in normal-weight young individuals

[3] Considering changes in gut microbiota as a pathway linking shift work, sleep loss and circadian misalignment, and metabolic disease

[4] Gut microbiome diversity is associated with sleep physiology in humans. Public Library of Science

[5] The Latest on Sleep and Gut Health

[6] The Truth About: Sleep

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Research suggests that the answer to a good night’s sleep may lie in the gut. Scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder conducted a study to find out if sleep can be improved by prebiotics – dietary fibres which feed good bacteria inside the gut.

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