The connection between digestion and sleep comes as a surprise to some of my patients. However, the science tells us that 70% to 90% of the neurotransmitters are produced in the gut, while the Chinese medicine doctors knew thousands of years ago of this connection.
The connection between digestion and sleep
From the Chinese medicine perspective, digestion involves the digestion of food, but also the “digestion” of thoughts, processing the information we have taken in the previous days, and take the edge off painful emotions. This is basically the function of what we call the Spleen system (which includes the functions of the pancreas) – to digest food, and process the associated emotions, such as overthinking, ruminating, worrying.
The gut is the second brain
A less than optimal digestion will affect the production of certain neurotransmitters such as serotonin and may lead to insomnia, overthinking, worrying about important or unimportant things.
So what is a less than optimal digestion? For some people it is more obvious, along with their insomnia they have bloating, gas, loose stools or constipation, possible diarrhea, belching or feeling full right after eating, acid reflux, to name a few.
Others many not have these symptoms, but upon stool analysis we see that there is insufficient beneficial bacteria, which leaves a window for abnormal bacteria to possibly grow in the future. Or they may already have abnormal bacteria, parasites, or yeast overgrowth.
What kind of insomnia is related to digestive issues?
If you have trouble falling asleep with a tendency towards ruminating and can only dive into very light sleep, or feel like you are hovering in light sleep all night, or worse, feel like you never fall asleep, I will look deeper into this Spleen system and most likely treat it. Another strong possibility is when you fall asleep just fine, but you wake up wide awake around 1 or 2am, up overthinking for an hour or two, and if you get lucky, you eventually go back to sleep.
What are some examples that can trigger these types of insomnia?
- One of the problems is the use of antibiotics which can affect the beneficial bacteria. I have many patients who reveal that they developed insomnia after treatment with antibiotics
- Abnormal bacteria, parasites, SIBO can all be a factor
- High stress has shown to affect the microbiome negatively and may lead to insomnia
- Stress combined with lots of studying, processing a lot of information, more than the Spleen system can compartmentalize. I am just now in the middle of doing my doctorate and I can certainly notice my sleep being influenced at times. I am feeling like I am processing information all night, staying in a light sleep, instead of a deeper sleep which actually would be better to process all this learning.
Prebiotics vs. probiotics – how it can heal your digestion
One thing that can always be beneficial for your digestion and sleep is the use of prebiotics. Notice that I am talking about PREbiotics not PRObiotics. Probiotics are also great, but they serve as placeholder only, and while it can be beneficial for your health, once you stop taking them, your gut will essentially be where it was before you started. Unless you add more and more prebiotics to your diet.
Prebiotic foods contain non-digestible fiber and it will feed and grow your OWN beneficial bacteria. This fiber is found in some of the foods you may be already eating but here are some examples:
- green bananas
- plantains (not cooked)
- dandelion greens
- whole grains
It takes times and consistency with these foods to improve your gut microbiome. The good news is that you can implement these foods in your diet every day and make it seamless.
While you introduce more of these foods in your diet and give them some time to work, let me know if I can help in any way. I have worked with many people who struggled with these same digestive issues and they finally were able to sleep better.
IBS and Serotonin: The Brain-Stomach Link. Retrieved from: https://www.healthline.com/health/irritable-bowel-syndrome/serotonin-effects
Can’t Sleep? It Could Be a Digestive Problem. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/news/20041215/cant-sleep-could-be-digestive-problemThe microbiome and the midnight snack: How gut microbes influence the body’s clock. Retrieved from: https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/biological-sciences-articles/the-microbiome-and-the-midnight-snack-how-gut-microbes-influence-the-bodys-clock
Could it be your gut keeping you awake at night? Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/mar/19/is-your-gut-keeping-you-awake-at-night