Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep! In total, we spend around a third of our lives asleep – and the body relies on this rest to recharge. As well as reducing fatigue and lethargy, a restful night’s sleep is thought to be beneficial to mental health, improving mood and day-to-day cognitive function. Sleep helps us to feel more rested and re-energised, and the advantages that come with a regular and predictable sleep pattern are diverse.
Maintaining good sleep health has key advantages to both mental and physical health. By reducing stress, and allowing the muscles time to recover, it is thought that sleep health could also be connected to areas such as cardiovascular health. A good night’s sleep could also be the key to glowing skin - sleep deprivation decreases blood flow to the skin1 around the face, creating a greyer and less colourful complexion. There is a documented global rise2 in poor sleep health – and many of us are struggling to get adequate periods of rest.
The relationship between prebiotics and sleep health
When we look to improve our sleep health and ensure a more restful night’s sleep, we tend to focus on the sleep environment – creating better peaceful conditions around us. However, could the secret to better sleep health actually lie in the gut?
This potential caught the attention of health and wellbeing author and presenter, Dr Michael Mosley, while doing research for his BBC documentary The Truth About: Sleep. Scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder conducted a study to find out if sleep can be improved by prebiotics – dietary fibres which feed beneficial ‘good’ bacteria inside the gut. The ‘good’ gut bacteria inside our digestive system are known to have widespread advantages to the body, including supporting mental health and wellbeing via the ‘gut-brain axis’. Because of this, our gut microbiome, the community comprising trillions of bacteria in the gut, could support a more effective sleep pattern. By nourishing these good bacteria and encouraging them to increase in number, we may be able to support better sleep health.
“We found that dietary prebiotics can improve non-REM sleep, as well as REM sleep, after a stressful event”- Robert Thompson, the first author of the study published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience. Dr Mosley decided to test the theory out for himself in the documentary which first aired in May 2017. Dr Mosley took our award-winning prebiotic supplement, Bimuno® DAILY powder, for 5 days. During that time, he noticed that the quality of his sleep improved. At the end of the 5-day trial, Dr Mosley gave Bimuno DAILY a rating of 9 out of 10.**
Professor Philip Burnet PhD from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford tracked Dr Mosley’s sleep patterns over the course of the experiment. The results show the potential of prebiotics in supporting sleep health. The day before Dr Mosley took Bimuno, 79% of his time in bed was spent sleeping, inactive, while 21% of his time was spent awake. Just 5 days after taking the prebiotic fibre, the amount of time Dr Mosley spent asleep went up to 92% and he only spent 8% of his time awake, improving his ‘sleep efficiency’.
Can prebiotics help you sleep?
Gut health is growing in public awareness – and for good reason! The trillions of bacteria that make up the gut microbiome are shown to play a role in many diverse non-digestive areas of physical and mental health. ‘Good’ gut bacteria are particularly useful to the body and known to support areas such as immune, cognitive and gastrointestinal health.
Professor Philip Burnet explains:
“Your good bacteria break down this fibre to produce molecules called short-chain fatty acids. These are the things that might be having an effect on your sleep. Of course, when this prebiotic grows ‘good’ gut bacteria, the bacteria themselves have beneficial effects, like synthesising vitamins and beneficial effects to the bowel and the immune system.”
“The breakdown of the prebiotic fibre itself produces beneficial molecules and the bacteria themselves, once they’re established, actually produce other molecules that benefit your gut and your brain. So perhaps it is these short chain fatty acids being produced that is affecting your sleep.”
Where can I find prebiotic fibre?
The great news is that you may already be including prebiotic fibre in your diet without even knowing it!
Prebiotic fibre occurs naturally in many foods such as Jerusalem artichokes, onions, shallots and whole grain oats. Ideally, we should aim to increase our prebiotic fibre intake from food and always take a diet-first approach to nutrition. However, this isn’t always possible for everyone, which is where a supplement may be useful.
Is the reverse true - can poor sleep influence gut health?
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%. There is a need to conduct additional large-scale studies to prove the effects of sleep on gut bacteria, and indeed the effect of prebiotics on sleep. However, the current data makes a compelling case. In the future, it may be that prebiotics are a better understood approach to supporting sleep health.
*Source: BBC1 TV programme The Truth about Sleep
** 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. Food supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.
- Sundelin et al., Sleep, 2013. 36(9): 1355-1360
- Stranges et al., Sleep, 2021. 35(8): 1173-1181