Stress, Sleep, and Prebiotics…

Do you struggle with sleep problems? According to medical science, a healthy adult requires at least seven hours of sound, uninterrupted sleep, especially if they want to maintain their physical and mental wellbeing.

However, most adults will tell you that hitting that magic number isn’t easy. Sometimes, it is a simple matter of self-control. There are adults who simply do not know when to stop partying or even working, and their sleeping cycle suffers as a result.

Other times, however, it isn’t the fault of an individual in question. Sometimes sleep just eludes people, and one common cause of abnormal sleeping patterns is stress. Stress can make falling asleep difficult, if not downright impossible.

In fact, nearly half of all people in the United States have struggled with sleeplessness as a result of stress. And that is problematic because medical experts are always encouraging patients to get more sleep in their efforts to fight stress.

If stress makes sleep difficult, and lack of sleep exacerbates stress, you can see how things can spiral into a cycle where stress and insomnia keep feeding into each other until they cause irreparable harm to the mind and body.

Sleep and the Stomach

Robert Thompson isn’t the first person to create a connection between sleep and food, though his study, which was published in a journal called Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, adds even more validity to pre-existing theories.

Medical science believes that the sleep/stress cycle manifests because of a certain type of bacteria in the gut which, when it is altered by stress, eventually impacts one’s sleeping and waking patterns. It is based on theories and concepts like this that Doctor Thompson (University of Colorado Boulder, Department of Integrative Physiology) sought to determine whether prebiotics (not to be confused with probiotics) could be used to prevent stress from affecting one’s sleep cycle.

The Effects of Prebiotics on Stress and Sleep

Prebiotics, for those who do not know, are non-digestible components found in vegetables like onions and leeks which encourage the growth of bacteria in the gut, the good kind of gut bacteria to be exact.

To better understand the impact of prebiotics on stress and sleep, Doctor Thompson’s team took two groups of rats and exposed one to a prebiotic-infused diet while the other fed on a standard diet.

Upon analyzing the fecal matter of each group, Thomson’s team found that the group exposed to a prebiotic diet manifested a notable increase in good gut bacteria. When their sleep-wake cycles were measured using electroencephalography, these rats were also found to have more NREM sleep in comparison to the control group. NREM sleep is what medical experts call the restorative sleep stage.

It should be noted that Thompson also had these two groups of rats exposed to acute stress, and the rats which fed on a prebiotic diet manifested more REM sleep which is necessary for effective recovery from stress.

While Thompson admits that more studies will be necessary to better understand the effect of prebiotics on stress and sleep, he also suggested that individuals who started taking prebiotic supplements early in life were less likely to contend with sleep-wake cycle problems resulting from stress as they grew older.