THE GUT-SLEEP CONNECTION
I’ve always been a good sleeper, but my body has been completely different since James was born. Along with predictable mommy changes (like shrinking breasts and having to pee all. the. time.), my sleep deteriorated and my digestion became more erratic. Then I tried intermittent fasting, and both immediately went back to normal. Which made me wonder: what is the connection between the gut and sleep?
Your Gut Has A Bedtime
We’ve long been warned that nighttime snacking can raise insulin levels and cause weight gain. But the latest studies suggest that your gut’s microbiome can interact with your circadian genes and disrupt sleep. Not only that, but it seems those microflora have their own circadian rhythm. When we eat late, our gut activates the central nervous system, stimulates production of weight-gaining hormones like cortisol, and starts experiencing a disruption of its own circadian clock, which then causes it to disrupt your sleep clock as a whole.
This launches a vicious cycle in which the gut interrupts sleep, which then causes disruptions to the gut’s microbiome. Researchers are beginning to link this cycle to mood and anxiety disorders like depression, as the gut helps to regulate secretions of neurotransmitters like serotonin. We’re just learning how this all works, but if the secret to happiness is eating an early dinner, then sign me up for the early bird special!
If You Must Eat, Then Eat THIS
In addition, what you eat and how much seems to have as much of an effect as when you eat, particularly if you’re a man. A recent Brazilian study linked high evening fat consumption to poor sleep in men. In women, however, quality of sleep suffered both if they ate a lot of fat later in the evening, and if they ate a lot of calories.
Regardless of whether you’re biologically male or female, you should eat if you’re hungry no matter what time it is. So if your stomach starts growling right before bed, grab a small, nutrient-dense snack of no more than 150 calories and chow down. Emerging research suggests that might even benefit your heart and gain muscle, depending on your age and activity level.
But When Should I Eat Dinner?
If you’re concerned your eating patterns are affecting your sleep, doctors recommend eating your last meal of the day 2-3 hours before your bedtime. Coincidentally, that’s exactly the schedule I’m on with intermittent fasting, and it’s working out great for me. While I enjoyed my dessert-in-front-of-the-TV routine, I found it surprisingly easy — and very worthwhile - to skip it.