How a good night's sleep can help your gut health

What you eat during the day can have an impact on your sleep

What you eat during the day can have an impact on your sleep - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Poor sleep is something that affects us all from time to time. In fact, it’s believed that a third of all adults will suffer from insomnia at some point.

Getting a good night’s sleep is just as important for good health as eating well and exercising regularly.

However, despite knowing this, we are thought to have up to two hours less sleep each night than our grandparents did.

Sleep is so much more than just taking a few hours to switch off and rest.

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Nutritional therapist Emma Jamieson - Credit: Rebecca Lewis

During the night, our bodies are able to repair themselves - removing old cells, clearing toxins etc. - jobs that can’t take place during the day when we’re active. These daily maintenance and repair processes take approximately eight hours to complete, meaning that we need to be asleep for approximately eight hours each night for the sake of our health.

However, it’s hard to say exactly how much sleep you need. It varies between individuals. If you wake up feeling refreshed and happy to get out of bed without hitting the snooze button, chances are that you’re getting enough.

Signs that you might need a bit more are feeling irritable or ‘cranky’ during the day.

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Maybe you’ve noticed that you find it hard to concentrate or are short tempered with your family and work colleagues. Other signs include having blurred vision, feeling disorientated or being slow to respond.

Of course, suffering from a lack of sleep can also impact your food choices throughout the day.

It has been shown in studies that people who are sleep-deprived tend to opt for sugary, carbohydrate-rich foods and caffeine to give them a quick energy burst.

As a one off after a late night these might not have too much of an impact.

Gentle exercise during the day, such as walking, can help promote good sleep

Gentle exercise during the day, such as walking, can help promote good sleep - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

However, if poor sleep is ongoing, then these regular choices could impact your blood sugar control, potentially leading to weight gain, insulin resistance and type two diabetes.

Disturbed sleep is known to have an affect on our mood and mental health, but did you also know that it can effect your digestion?

While pain and discomfort from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other digestive conditions can affect quality of sleep, scientists now believe that poor sleep can have a direct impact on digestive health.

One study looking at people with IBS found that those who reported having had a bad night’s sleep had more severe symptoms the following day.

This may be because a lack of sleep directly affects pain receptors in the body, making them more sensitive.

This is particularly true of receptors within the digestive tract, meaning the IBS sufferers experienced more pain and discomfort after a poor night’s sleep.

Chronic stress is a side effect of regular insomnia, as the body recognises that it is not getting the rest and recuperation that it needs.

Stress is a recognised cause of IBS and digestive disorders, so will come as no surprise that elevated levels due to lack of sleep will also have a knock-on effect on digestive symptoms.

So, the million dollar question is how do you ensure a good night’s sleep?

Gentle exercise during the day, such as walking, can help promote good sleep

Avoid using devices which emit blue light in the lead up to bedtime - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Establishing what is known as good ‘sleep hygiene’ is the most important thing you can do to encourage a relaxing night’s sleep.

Interestingly, it’s often what you do or don’t do during the day, rather than at bedtime, that can have the biggest impact.

If you’ve tried some of these already and still find yourself awake in the early hours then it might be helpful to keep a sleep diary for a few days to help pinpoint any particular problems.

Here are some things to try to encourage good sleep:

• Try to go to bed and wake at roughly the same time each day, including weekends - your body loves routine!

• Keep the temperature in your bedroom cool.

• Switch off lights and invest in black out blinds to keep the room dark - sleep with an eye mask if this isn’t possible.

• Get outside in bright daylight for a few minutes as soon as you wake up. This helps tell your body that the day has started and it will start its internal clock ticking down to bedtime.

• Give yourself time to wind down at the end of the day - read a book, have a bath, listen to music.

• Try to switch off smartphones and laptops a couple of hours before bed. Wear blue-light blocking glasses if you have to look at screens during this time.

• Avoid caffeine after midday if you know it has an effect on your sleep.

• Aim to take some gentle exercise every day. It has been shown that regular exercise improves restful sleep.

Emma recommends avoiding caffeine after midday.

Emma recommends avoiding caffeine after midday. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

If your poor sleep is ongoing or interfering with your daily life, despite trying these recommendations, then please make an appointment to discuss it with your GP.

Emma Jamieson is a registered nutritional therapist and health coach in East Anglia, specialising in digestive health.

Find more health advice on her website, emmajamieson.co.uk or follow her on Instagram for tips, recipes and more @emmajamieson_nutrition.