Woman with sleep problems waking up to alarm

Can Prebiotics Help You Sleep Better?

Can Prebiotics Help You Sleep Better?

Scientifically reviewed by: Michael A. Smith, MD

Is your gut telling you that you need sleep?

Let's face it. We are living in some seriously stressful times. And as you probably know, stress isn't good for your health… especially when it comes to sleep problems. Most adults need a sleep cycle that lasts between 7 and 9 hours, but according to the CDC, one out of every three of us aren't getting enough sleep.

Stress may be the underlying factor that impacts our sleep health, knocking our biological clocks off their normal patterns and keeping us awake at night. Luckily, new research out of the University of Colorado Boulder shows that prebiotics may offer the help many of us have been seeking.

Stress can alter your gut microbiome so that it may interfere with your sleep patterns. Instead of counting sheep, regularly getting enough prebiotics in your diet may make all the difference, the study determined.

As Robert S. Thompson, the study's lead author, stated in a previous study, "[A] diet rich in prebiotics can modulate the sleep-wake cycle both before and after stress and induce stress-protective effects in diurnal physiology and the gut microbiota."

Prebiotics for your sleep?

Before we jump into how they could potentially impact your sleep, let's get a better understanding of prebiotics. Your body has a microbiome or a community of microbes that are involved in our gut, brain, oral, heart and immune health, just to name a few.

We are only recently beginning to discover the implications of the microbiome on overall health, but we do know this: prebiotics play an essential role in your gut health. They can be excellent companions to probiotics, because they feed the growth of "good" bacteria in your gut, helping them to flourish.

And, when your gut bacteria is balanced, your microbiome can properly regulate and produce metabolites that promote your healthy immune function, digestion, metabolism, and, most importantly, stress. Having fewer stressors likely means better sleep for you—as anyone who's had better sleep than they had in years after a long-overdue vacation can attest!

Prebiotics vs. probiotics: What’s the difference?

Healthy digestion and a robust immune system depend on your microbiome, and that requires a healthy amount of prebiotics and probiotics. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that we can get through our diet (if eaten in sufficient amounts), and are found in fermented foods ranging from kimchi to yogurt. Like we mentioned earlier, prebiotics act essentially as food for those bacteria, giving them energy to flourish.

By definition, prebiotics are non-digestible fibers. Instead, they become fermented by the bacteria in the gut—a process that promotes the growth of more beneficial microorganisms. So probiotics are essentially bacteria, and prebiotics feed that bacteria so they can do their job.

What can help your sleep problems?

A good night of sleep is imperative for good health. Sleep helps our brain recharge and our body refresh itself. It is essential for learning and memory, emotional wellbeing, physical immune function, cardiovascular health and more. Sleep is also integral to cellular repair processes and helps regulate insulin and other hormones that control appetite.

The best way to avoid sleep problems is to have a consistent bedtime, choosing a quiet, dark place to sleep, getting in some exercise every day and spending time outdoors during daylight, and avoiding stimulating activities such as watching television or using your smart phone in the hours before bedtime.

Eating a healthy diet—which includes good sources of prebiotics, probiotics and other important nutrients—is a great way to support whole body health, laying the foundation for healthy sleep patterns.

What foods have prebiotics?

Since eating a healthy diet that includes prebiotics may help you get better rest at night, perhaps you're wondering what foods you should make sure are in your daily diet. Prebiotic fibers that fuel the good bacteria are often found in foods such as bananas, whole grains and vegetables like garlic and onions.

On the other hand, steer clear of processed foods, sugars, and refined carbohydrates, which can fuel the bad kind of bacteria that can have a negative impact on your microbiome.



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The Life Extension Health News team delivers accurate information about vitamins, nutrition and aging. Our stories rely on multiple, authoritative sources and experts. We keep our content accurate and trustworthy, by submitting it to a medical reviewer.