You might be wondering: does sleep affect your digestion?
The importance of sleep and rest for good gut health can often be overlooked. But, when it comes to our health, both physical and mental, sleep is one of the keys to our overall wellness. It’s a simple concept, yet so important. Sleep helps your body digest food and absorb nutrients. It’s when you’re asleep that your body is able to replenish and repair itself – otherwise called, Rest and Digest.
As a colonic hydrotherapist and gut health nutritionist, Zhenya discusses sleep patterns and habits with every client she works with. When we sleep, our body is able to repair. Sleep and good rest are needed for our body and organs to perform the crucial functions of keeping us healthy.
If you don’t get enough sleep, you can wake up feeling tired and sluggish—and that can impact on your digestion. While you’re asleep, your body can work on fixing damaged cells and tissues—including those in your digestive tract.
When you’re sleep-deprived, your body is more likely to produce more of the stress hormone cortisol, which can affect your digestive system. Sleep is also crucial for helping your body regulate its hunger hormones. When you don’t get enough sleep, hormone levels like ghrelin (which stimulates appetite) and leptin (which tells you when you’re full) can become disrupted, which makes you more likely to overeat or eat unhealthy foods. A stressed-out body will produce more acid in the stomach, which can cause heartburn or indigestion.
When you don’t get enough sleep, your body doesn’t have time to repair itself properly, making you more susceptible to digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In fact, one study found that people with a history of IBS were more likely to experience worse symptoms when they had limited or interrupted sleep than people who slept normally or well. This might be because during REM sleep our bodies produce hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which help us stay alert while we’re awake but can actually make our stomachs less responsive when when we’re asleep.
Different Stages of Sleep
Sleep is an essential part of the body’s natural healing process. During sleep, your body goes through several different stages that allow it to heal itself and keep you running smoothly. The entire sleep cycle repeats itself several times a night, with every successive REM stage increasing in duration and depth of sleep.
As you sleep, your brain cycles through four stages of sleep.
- Stages 1 to 3 are what’s considered non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, also known as quiet sleep.
- Stage 4 is rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, also known as active sleep or paradoxical sleep.
The deepest stage of sleep is REM sleep. It is during this stage that your body releases human growth hormone, which helps repair damaged cells and tissues in your body. This helps to heal any damage in your body, including your digestive system.
Sleep helps with nutrient absorption by helping regulate blood sugar levels. When you get enough sleep, blood sugar levels are more stable throughout the day, which means that your body has more consistent energy levels—and that means fewer spikes in hunger as well!
So how much sleep do we need each night?
The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep per night for adults aged 26-64 years old. If you’re over 65 or under 18, they recommend even more sleep; eight hours or more each night!
Tips for a good night’s sleep
Thankfully, there are some simple things we can do to manage our stress levels; and in turn gift ourselves one of the most valuable daily functions required for the health of our mind and body, along with aiding good gut health. And don’t we all deserve that?
So, here are just a few things we recommend you try for a good night’s sleep.
- Avoid really large meals at dinner time. On average it takes between 1.5-3 hours to digest our food. This means the body is still WORKING and isn’t really ready for rest until that food passes from the stomach. If you are a troubled sleeper try to have a light dinner which is easy to digest. Perhaps prepare a salad with a nice light fish, or enjoy a warming soup in the colder months. Meat-heavy or pasta-heavy meals take longer to digest.
- Turn off the devices – at least an hour before bed put down your devices. Turn the phone off or switch to flight mode and leave the laptops to rest. When we scroll through messages, websites or social media we stimulate the same part of the brain that thinks we are working. Next thing we know an hour has passed of Instagram scrolling and our minds continue to think we have been “at work.”
- Create a downtime ritual
- Have a shower to wash off the day or soak in the bath using magnesium salts and a calming essential oil like lavender, magnolia or patchouli. Or whatever other calming scent you like.
- Enjoy a cup of tea – if chamomile isn’t your thing find a sleep tea that you enjoy or sip on a digestive tea, which is wonderful for aiding good gut health after dinner as well.
- Go to bed before 10pm – the most important hours of sleep are between 10pm and 12am. This is when our bodies secrete melatonin.
- Keep a journal by your bed – we often hear from those who experience difficulty in sleeping, that they also have a thousand thoughts going through their mind. And, really, who doesn’t these days? Those of us who keep a journal by the bed for “mind dumping” find it easier to fall asleep. This is a great way of relieving our minds of the pressure of trying to remember all those things for the next day. Once it’s written down on paper, we’ve released the responsibility of holding on to that thought.
- Breath work and Meditation for sleep – By slowing down the breath we tap into our parasympathetic nervous system, the system responsible for ‘rest and digest’. By practicing simple breathing exercises, we can slow our heart rate and slip into the state of rest. We also love a good Yoga Nidra practice. Yoga Nidra translates to yoga sleeping. Although we said put the phone down early, the Insight Timer app has several excellent night time meditations and practices. If you do need to use your phone for this, be sure it’s on ‘do not disturb’ mode so that once the meditation is over there’s no need to pick up the phone again.
- Your bedroom is your sanctuary – create your bedroom to be a sanctuary; inviting rest and sleep. Our bedrooms should be minimally decorated without a lot of furniture and clutter. It should be comforting and nurturing. Soft bedside lighting, peaceful colours and art. If it’s a noisy room, invest in good quality earplugs and an eye mask. We love some of the cool products offered by Block Blue Light.
We wish you sweet, deep and restful dreams… for all the good things it will bring, including good gut health.