Updated at: 21-02-2022 - By: Jane Brody

Sleep is essential to good health. It’s a time for self-healing and learning consolidation in the body and brain. Health problems including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity are all made more likely when you don’t get enough sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep, what happens to your digestive system? It’s also worth asking: What happens to the quality of your sleep when you’re not digesting properly? This article examines the relationship between digestion and sleep, and offers advice on how to improve your gut health so that you can have a good night’s sleep.

What Happens to Your Digestive System During Sleep?

Digestive processes continue even when you’re sleeping. However, because you’re not consuming any food or fluids while you’re unconscious, things slow down considerably. The tissues in this area are also growing, repairing, and rebuilding themselves at this time. These processes are powered by the glucose absorbed during the day. As a result, your digestive system continues to function while you sleep if you consume a substantial meal before going to bed, which is not a good idea. There are a number of unpleasant, sleep-disrupting side effects that might occur from this.

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How Sleep Deprivation Affects Digestion

Vulnerable to Inflammation

Many digestive problems are caused by inflammation in the intestines. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis are a few of the conditions that fall under this umbrella. When the body doesn’t like or recognize something that a person eats or drinks, an immunological response might set off a flare-up of inflammation in the body. Getting enough shut-eye is essential for a healthy immune system. An overproduction of pro-inflammatory cytokines occurs when a person is sleep deprived, which leads to even more inflammation. This is, in fact, a classic case of the chicken and the egg. As a result of intestinal issues, you may have difficulty sleeping. In addition, digestion can deteriorate if you are unable to sleep.

Crave More Sugary Foods

It’s no secret that sleep deprivation makes people more ravenous. Your mind isn’t the only factor. It has been shown that this is a biological response. To put it simply, lack of sleep causes a hormonal imbalance. The hunger hormone ghrelin overtakes the fullness hormone leptin in the body’s composition. When you take into account how sleep deprivation impacts judgment, that extra trip to the vending machine after lunch to get a Snickers makes sense.

Predisposed to Stress

Lack of sleep can exacerbate stress, especially if it was worry that had them tossing and turning all night. Stress, on the other hand, throws your digestive system for a loop. Because your body is in “fight or flight” mode while you’re under stress, you’re more likely to have an adverse reaction to the situation. Your limbs and some portions of your brain are receiving the majority of your blood and energy. Constipation and diarrhea are both conditions in which digestion has halted.

Affects Neurochemicals

Throughout the day, the body maintains a precise balance of hormones and chemicals. Both melatonin and cortisol have a major impact on sleep. Melatonin levels rise in the evening as the body prepares for sleep. There is a peak between the hours of 1 and 4 in the morning. Cortisol, a stress hormone, begins to take its place. You need a cortisol boost to get you out of bed and going in the morning. melatonin is made from the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is produced during this cycle. Because it’s primarily present in the gut, it can disrupt serotonin and prevent it from being converted to melatonin. Melatonin production decreases, cortisol levels rise, and a cycle of sleep deprivation begins.

Stomach Problems that Cause Sleep Difficulties

Indigestion

Heartburn to Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) are all symptoms of indigestion (GERD). If you’ve ever had indigestion, you know how difficult it is to sleep, if not impossible. Finding a comfortable sleeping position might be difficult, and you may need to get up several times throughout the night to use the restroom.

Constipation

Congestion and insomnia may be linked in the case of one another. It’s possible that your symptoms are neurological or stress-related, assuming you’re eating enough fiber. Constipation can also be caused by dehydration. If you don’t drink enough water, your digestive system may slow down, making it more difficult to fall asleep.

Heartburn

When you’re attempting to get some shut-eye, heartburn can be downright debilitating. When acid refluxes into the esophagus, it results in symptoms such as heartburn. Doctors used to believe that excessive acid production was the cause of the problem. However, they have since discovered that this is not the case at all. The digestive system fails to produce enough acid, resulting in heartburn. As a result of this, the body doesn’t know how to shut off a specific valve. As a result, the valve only closes when enough digestive juices are flowing through it to accomplish their job of breaking down the food. As a result, the valve is frequently left open, allowing acid to enter the stomach. When you lie down and try to sleep, your symptoms get worse.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Heartburn and acid reflux are prominent symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which affects 10 to 20 percent of the population in the United States. Sleeping with gastroesophageal reflux disease can cause a person to wake up in spasms of coughing or choking.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Sleep problems are common among those who have irritable bowel syndrome, which is referred to as IBS. Patients say that, aside from stomach issues, the biggest health concern they face is getting enough sleep. A horrible IBS day is more likely for someone with IBS if they have a restless night of sleep.

Ulcerative Colitis

Inflammatory bowel illness that affects the colon and rectum, ulcerative colitis. This is an unbearable situation. Cramping is a common problem for people who must adhere to a very tight diet. It’s difficult to schedule social outings when you have diarrhea that comes and goes without warning. Even though research is ongoing, ulcerative colitis may be triggered by a circadian cycle that is out of whack. Patients with UC have inflammatory cytokines in their blood, which suggests a role for the immune system.

Crohn’s Disease

Getting enough sleep is an important consideration for everyone living with Crohn’s Disease. Even patients who are in remission are at risk of a relapse if they don’t get enough sleep.

Sleep Tips for Better Gut Health

Avoid Big Meals Before Bedtime

The digestive system needs time to recuperate, so don’t eat too much immediately before bedtime. Eat a modest snack like an apple with nut butter or a slice of avocado toast if you’re hungry late at night. Consume as many calories as possible earlier in the day so that your body has time to rest from digestion at night.

Check Your Sleep Position

Stay away from the stomach position when you’re trying to get some shut-eye. It compresses the digestive system’s internal organs. A wedge pillow can be used to prop up your head as you sleep on your back. Sleeping on your left side, on the other hand, can improve blood flow and digestion.

Relax

At night, try to relax and have fun. It’s time to take a hot bath, drink a cup of hot tea, or have an intimate conversation with someone you love. Consider reading a book instead of getting sucked into the world of television, social media, or work emails. You’re more likely to obtain a good night’s sleep if you go to bed in a calm and relaxed state.

Herbal Supplements

You can get some shuteye with the help of natural remedies that ease tummy aches. Ensure you’re getting the nutrients your body needs to mend itself by looking for brands that use all-natural ingredients. In the long term, chemical-laden remedies just mask the symptoms and can actually make the problem worse.

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Follow a Bedtime Routine

Following a nightly nighttime routine will help you get to sleep more easily. Each night, repeating the same tasks in the same order helps your brain associate sleepiness with the end of the day. To unwind, you may take a bath or meditate, or you could do something as easy as cleaning your face and brushing your teeth.

Prepare for Nighttime Disruptions

If you suffer from chronic digestive problems, you should be aware that they rarely go away on their own. There will inevitably be some noises made in the middle of the night. Try not to worry about missing out on sleep as you go about your day. When you obsess over something, you make it worse.

Pay Attention to Your Diet

GERD, Crohn’s, and IBS patients typically have dietary sensitivity, especially to gluten. Avoid anything that produces a reaction in your body by keeping a close eye on your diet.

Reduce Stress

Stress is rarely a good thing. It’s only useful if you’re racing against time or being pursued by a tiger. The bedroom is not the place to deal with tension. Throughout the day and night, take a few seconds to slow down, breathe, and unwind. You may have difficulty sleeping if you are under a lot of stress. Getting less sleep also increases your risk of experiencing digestive issues, as you already know.

Digestion benefits and left-side sleeping

Digestive health advocates frequently recommend sleeping on one’s backside. The most important thing is to utilize supporting pillows and a firm mattress, regardless of whether you sleep on your front, side, or back.

  • It’s impossible to prove that sleeping on one side is healthier than the other in terms of gut health. The stomach’s location, on the other hand, is a hint. The stomach is designed to sit on the left side of the body, where it can better digest food. To get the trash out of your small intestine, you need gravity.
  • People who suffer from heartburn may find relief by sleeping on their left side, as sleeping on the right side relaxes the muscles that connect the stomach to the food pipe. The contraction of these muscles reduces acid reflux. Acid reflux is more likely when you sleep on your right side, according to research conducted by Trusted Source.

Is a healthy diet the solution?

In order to help you sleep, here are some common-sense recommendations that will also improve your digestive system. It’s hardly surprising that a healthier diet will help improve sleep issues because your body is interconnected. A gut-friendly diet is one that restricts consumption of processed foods, meats, sugary snacks, and fast food. Instead of committing to a radical lifestyle shift like going vegan in 2020, focus on incorporating more fiber-rich and fermented foods into your daily diet. Adding additional berries, dark chocolate, almonds, and colorful plant-based foods to your diet will also help you broaden your nutritional horizons. In order to have a good night’s sleep, it’s best to avoid eating anything high in calories two to three hours before going to bed. In lieu of this, try to have a healthy dinner before going to bed so that you have time to digest before going to sleep. The licensed dietitian at Atlas, Maria Kadarkova, also recommends extending your legs after dinner: “Kill two birds with one stone, go for a stroll after dinner, it may enhance quality of sleep and digestion.”

Foods and tips for your gut:

  • Since pesticides can destroy the healthy bacteria in our digestive tract, organic food can aid in the health of our microbiome. In addition to fruits and vegetables, there are grains, legumes and dairy as well.
  • Including a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables in your diet is good for your digestive system. We need a wide array of plants, not just apples and bananas, to ensure a wide variety of healthy bacteria in our diets, not just apples and bananas.
  • Prebiotic foods provide millions of organisms in your stomach with the energy they need to thrive. Prebiotics can be found in a variety of fiber-rich plants, including apples, asparagus, artichokes, onions, and garlic.
  • In addition to helping you sleep better, regular physical activity boosts the quantity of beneficial bacteria in your gut and reduces chronic inflammation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can insomnia and sleep apnea cause digestive problems?

The digestive system can be affected by both of these disorders, therefore yes. People who suffer from insomnia and sleep apnoea are typically sleep-deprived since their bodies aren’t given enough time to repair themselves. As a result, sleep deprivation can worsen current health issues and possibly cause new ones to arise.

What causes nighttime bowel movements?

A midnight bowel movement might be caused by a malfunctioning digestive system. Even if you go to bed and shut your eyes for the night, the conditions we’ve been discussing won’t go away. The digestive system of a healthy person will slow down and restore itself while you sleep, but the digestive system of a troubled person may keep churning, requiring you to get out of bed several times during the night.

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How can I digest food at night?

Even at night and while you sleep, your digestion continues. Make the procedure easier on yourself. Here are a few things you can do to speed things up and make it easier:

  • Drink at least 64 ounces of water each day.
  • Make sure to eat a diet rich in whole, unadulterated foods.
  • Eat slowly, chew your meal thoroughly, and take a break while you eat.
  • Avoid overeating.
  • Keep your nighttime meals to a minimum.

Can anxiety cause gas pain?

Yes, worry triggers a fight-or-flight response in the body, which causes digestion to stall for a period of time. Unprocessed foods can build up in the stomach, resulting in gas pain and other symptoms.

Conclusion

It’s startling to learn that sleep affects digestion, but it makes sense if you consider it. Parasympathetic, often known as “rest and digest,” is a division of the nervous system, whereas sympathetic, also known as “fight or flight,” is another. Every bodily function, including sleep and digestion, is affected when the nervous system is out of whack. Because of this, if you’re still not getting enough sleep, you can now add digestive health to the list.
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