It is a well-noted fact that humans need adequate sleep to function. For most adults, that number is between six and nine hours, with the sweet spot falling somewhere around seven and a half. Sleep is a recovery phase for the body. It has connections to all biological functions, including digestion — yup, you read that right, digestion. Therefore, the question, "can poor sleep affect digestion," has a definitive and resounding answer: yes!
What is Happening to Your Digestive System While You Sleep?
Like other systems in your body, your digestive system continues to function during sleep but at a slower rate.1 The evening is the time for your body, including your digestive tract, to repair, rebuild, and grow. Fueling these processes is glucose collected from the meals throughout the day. Unfortunately, if you’re a late-night snacker (we’ve even been known to indulge), you’re forcing your body to work hard through the night, leading to interrupted sleep, indigestion, acid reflux, and heartburn.
The Role Sleep Plays in Digestion
Sleep is the time for your body to rebalance hormonal and chemical levels, ensuring you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the challenges of a new day.
So, how does sleep affect gut health?
The rebalancing act also plays a role in vital systems affecting digestion, like the immune system. Even deprived of a few hours of sleep, your body might trigger an immune system response, producing pro-inflammatory cells that can damage healthy tissue.2
Beyond inflammation, sleep deprivation can lead to poor impulse control and sugar cravings.3 A lack of sleep disrupts hormone levels, including ghrelin, which triggers hunger signals, and leptin, which triggers fullness. Additionally, interrupted sleep patterns are linked to higher cortisol levels, affecting stress and digestive habits.4
Okay, we've covered the impacts of sleep on your digestive system, now let’s talk tips for getting more sleep. Sleep deprivation is more common than you'd think, and there are quite a few lifestyle changes you can make t0 help reduce those restless nights.
Our Tips for Getting a Better Night's Rest
Because of the importance of sleep and the digestive system, it is vital to improve your sleep quality. There are many suggestions out there that attest to improved REM cycles. Below are a few of our faves.
Block Your Alarm Clock
Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is settle your mind when lying in bed. Your mind races with the worries of the day, and you find yourself watching the clock, slowly counting the minutes before sunrise. The solution: block your clock. Watching time pass will not make you tired; it will only contribute to stress, keeping you awake.
Lower the Lights Earlier
If you want the best night's rest possible, you need to find ways to increase melatonin levels, the body's sleep hormone. Lowering the lights in your living room even an hour before bed can make it easier to drift off to sleep once snuggled under the covers.
Reserve Your Bed for Sleep
Your bed is meant for rest and sleep — not work, exercise, etc. When you use your bed as a multifunctional space, it can interfere with your sleep, as your mind no longer registers it as a place for relaxation. Spending significant time on your bed working can trigger alertness and wakefulness, meaning it is naturally more challenging to fall asleep. Instead, do your best to work at a desk or any available table. Also, it makes slipping in between the sheets at night so much more enjoyable!
Increase Bright Light Exposure During the Day
Your body wants to be alert and energetic during the day and at rest in the evening. So much so, your brain has a chemical response to daytime and evening. If you can increase your exposure to natural light during the day, you can maintain a healthy and natural circadian rhythm.
Enhance Your Bedroom Environment
A clean, quiet, dark, and distraction-free bedroom is the best way to promote sleep. If possible, keep the room cool and decorate using soft textures and comfortable furnishings. Everything about your bedroom should speak to relaxation.
Your digestive system depends on adequate sleep, and without it, you might experience digestive distress. Focus on improving your sleep quality to promote overall health and wellness.