The Connection Between Sleep and Gut Health

Table of Contents
SO Gut Health 1

The human body isn’t compartmentalized: everything is intertwined. For example, the health of your gut is involved in everything else going on in your body — your gut and brain “talk.” Things like your brain function, your ability to fight off illness, and the health of your heart are influenced by how happy and balanced the microbes in your digestive system (AKA your gut microbiome) are. (1)

Your gut health even influences your sleep, like how easily you fall asleep and how frequently you wake at night. If that caught your attention, Sleep Scientist Dr. Carleara Weiss, PhD, MS, RN says, “The gut microbiome can influence sleep quality through the brain-gut-microbiome axis (BGMA). This is a bi-directional relationship, so sleep and stress also impact the gut.” 

In other words, your sleep and gut health have a lot to do with each other. Let’s dive into the connection and what it means for you. 

Long Story Short

  • There’s bidirectional communication between your gut and your brain, which influences both your sleep and gut health.
  • The diversity and balance of your gut bacteria influence how well you sleep, including how quickly you fall asleep and how frequently you wake at night. On the flip side, your sleep patterns influence the health of your gut microbiome. 
  • Improve gut health by eating a diverse, plant-rich diet; minimizing ultra-processed foods; consuming probiotics; hydrating; and managing your stress. In turn, this can improve your sleep pattern.
  • Improve your sleep pattern by prioritizing better sleep hygiene habits, such as a consistent sleep-wake schedule, avoiding blue light before bed, and engaging in calming nightly routines. In turn, this can benefit your gut health.

How Does Sleep Affect Your Gut? 

We’ve all experienced the different effects of a good night’s sleep versus a night spent tossing and turning. How well-rested you are influences your ability to focus, your energy level, and your mood for the remainder of the day. Additionally, emerging research highlights the bidirectional relationship between sleep quality and the gut microbiome. (2) Let’s talk about how your sleep patterns affect your gut health first. 

What Is the Gut Microbiome?

The gut microbiome is the diverse community of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other microbes, that live within the digestive tract of humans and other animals. It’s a complex ecosystem involved in maintaining many aspects of your health, like digestion, immune function, metabolism, and mood.

The makeup and balance of your gut microbiome are influenced by factors like diet, genetics, environment, and lifestyle — including sleep habits. A balanced and diverse microbiome is associated with better overall wellness. (3)

“The gut microbiome is composed of microbes that live in a symbiotic relationship in our body, helping us to synthesize certain vitamins, amino acids, and food like sugar,” says Dr. Weiss. 

Disruptions in sleep patterns, like consistently sleeping poorly or not sleeping for long enough, can alter the makeup and function of your gut microbiome. These disruptions can lead to an imbalance in good and bad bacteria. When this happens, you may become more prone to digestive issues involving inflammation. Symptoms of digestive inflammation might include diarrhea, fatigue, bloating, or abdominal pains that are ongoing and out of the ordinary. (4) (5)

Imbalanced gut bacteria may also increase the permeability of the gut barrier. This is often called having a “leaky gut,” a once questionable condition now becoming more accepted by the medical community. 

With leaky gut syndrome, your intestinal lining becomes damaged, allowing substances such as toxins, bacteria, and undigested food particles to leak into the bloodstream. This leakage is thought to trigger immune responses and inflammation, potentially encouraging digestive problems, autoimmune diseases, and food sensitivities. (6)

On the other hand, a healthy gut microbiome has been linked to better sleep quality and duration, suggesting that the two go hand-in-hand. Adequate sleep supports the regulation of hormones and brain chemicals involved in gut function and metabolism, like melatonin and serotonin. (7) Getting enough sleep also supports normal immune function, which is beneficial for the gut environment. (8)

Interestingly, Weiss says, some studies have looked at how your chronotype — whether you’re a morning person, a night owl, or something in between — influences the makeup of your microbiome. More research is needed, but those studies provide a little more evidence of the deep connection that exists between our lifestyle and our health. (9)

How Does Your Gut Affect Sleep? 

Okay, so your sleep affects the balance of your gut bacteria. But how are the trillions of microbes in your digestive system involved in your sleep quality? Let’s examine why you should prioritize your gut health if you’re looking to improve your sleep. 

Weiss explains that microbiome diversity is beneficial to sleep, improving sleep efficiency and sleep duration. Conversely, “When problems arise with the microbiome, people experience disrupted sleep with more nighttime awakenings.”

The gut microbiome produces hormones and chemicals involved in regulating your sleep-wake cycles and mood. When these processes are disrupted, it can lead to trouble falling asleep or frequently waking up at night. (11)

Plus, if you have existing conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), their symptoms can make it harder to rest.

Sleep is also impacted by your diet and lifestyle choices and how these affect your gut microbiome. In a 2023 study published in Clocks Sleep, researchers were able to identify a link between the gut microbiome on sleep. Specifically, they found that certain types of microbes had a positive effect on sleep duration, snoring, and insomnia, while other types increased the risk of poor sleep. (12)

Weiss explains that some types of bacteria were found to be negatively correlated with sleep — that is, when these bacteria are disregarded, sleep quality goes down. Others are associated with an increased risk of insomnia or snoring.

This comes after a 2019 study, which came to similar conclusions and highlighted the finding that total microbiome diversity supported better sleep quality and duration, with fewer night wakings. (13)

Total Microbiome Diversity

This refers to the different types and varieties of microbes (bacteria, yeast, fungi) that make up your gut microbiome. This balance is what helps shape the health and functions of the community. It’s influenced by things like your diet, genetics, environmental factors, and how the different microbes interact with each other. While more research is needed, this confirms the relationships between the gut microbiome and sleep, suggesting the potential for microbiome-based intervention strategies for sleep-related conditions in the future.

Improving Sleep and Gut Health

Seeing as sleep and gut health are so closely associated, it’s important to understand how to optimize both. There are several dietary and lifestyle changes you can make that support a healthy gut microbiome and can encourage better sleeping habits. 

5 Ways to Improve Your Gut Health 

1. Diversify Your Diet

Incorporate a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds into your meals. Plant foods are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which nourish beneficial gut bacteria and support overall gut health. (14)

2. Include Prebiotic and Probiotic Foods

Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, and kombucha contain probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that help maintain a healthy balance in the gut microbiome. Prebiotics, or fuel for probiotics, can be found in foods like Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, garlic, onions, soybeans, and bananas. (15) Regularly consuming fermented foods and prebiotics can promote digestive health and enhance the diversity of gut bacteria. (16

If you don’t eat many fermented foods, you might consider adding a probiotic supplement to your routine that’s specifically formulated to improve gut health. For example, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and Bifidobacterium longum may help support a healthy microbiome. However, research on probiotics and the gut microbiome is still evolving, and it’s likely the benefits only last for as long as you’re using them. (17)

3. Limit Ultra-Processed Foods and Sugar

High intake of ultra-processed foods (like baked goods, sugary sodas, potato chips, and things made with refined white flour) and added sugars can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria and contribute to inflammation. Opt for minimally processed foods whenever possible, and minimize consumption of sugary snacks, beverages, and desserts. (18)

4. Stay Hydrated

Drinking an adequate amount of water is essential for supporting digestion and maintaining proper bowel function. Aim to drink water throughout the day, and consider hydrating with herbal teas or infused water for added variety and hydration benefits. (19)

5. Manage Stress

Chronic stress can negatively impact gut health by altering gut motility, increasing inflammation, and disrupting the balance of gut bacteria. (20) Incorporate stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, or spending time in nature to support both mental well-being and gut health. 

5 Ways to Improve Your Sleep

1. Establish a Consistent Sleep Schedule

Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps regulate your body’s internal clock and improves the quality of your sleep over time. (21)

2. Create a Relaxing Bedtime Routine

Engage in calming activities before bed to signal to your body that it’s time to wind down. This could include reading, taking a warm bath, practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation, or listening to soothing music. (21)

3. Make Your Sleep Environment Comfortable

Create a conducive sleep environment by keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet. Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows, and consider using blackout curtains, white noise machines, or earplugs to minimize disruptions. (21)

4. Limit Exposure to Screens Before Bed

The blue light emitted by screens from devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers can interfere with the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles. Avoid using electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime, or use blue light filters and night mode settings to reduce exposure. (22)

5. Watch Your Caffeine and Alcohol Intake

Try to skip any evening beverages with caffeine or alcohol, especially in the hours leading up to bedtime. Both substances can disrupt sleep patterns and reduce sleep quality. (23) (24) Instead, opt for caffeine-free herbal teas or warm milk if you need a soothing beverage before bed.

What are symptoms of an unhealthy gut?

Symptoms of an unhealthy gut include persistent digestive issues like bloating, gas, and abdominal pain. Additionally, experiencing frequent food intolerances or developing new sensitivities may indicate gut health issues. Low energy levels and changes in mood or mental health can also be signs of an imbalanced gut microbiome. (25)

What causes stomach pain at night?

Stomach pain at night could be caused by a variety of factors, including indigestion from heavy or spicy meals consumed before bedtime. Other potential causes may include GERD, which can worsen when lying down, or inflammatory conditions that may flare up during nighttime hours. (26) If you’re experiencing stomach pain, it’s a good idea to speak with your healthcare provider.

The Last Word From Sleepopolis 

While our understanding of sleep and gut health continues to evolve, it’s safe to say that they are strongly linked. Getting enough quality sleep at night isn’t just good for your ability to focus the next day, but it’s necessary for your good gut bacteria to thrive. In turn, this promotes better overall wellness. 

By the same token, nourishing your gut bacteria isn’t just important for your immune function and digestion, but also your ability to rest well. Consider some of the ways you can improve your diet, lifestyle, and sleep habits to nurture the very important gut-brain relationship.


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          Weiss, Carleara. Personal interview. 15 Feb 2023.

Lauren Panoff

Lauren Panoff

Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD is a Colorado-based health and nutrition writer who has been published with a number of trusted wellness platforms. She is a dietitian who specializes in plant-based living, as well as a mother of two humans and a dog.