When you’re unsure of something and people tell you to follow your gut, that’s not just a figure of speech. Many scientists call the gut the second brain, and for good reason.
Not only is your gut always communicating with your brain, but gut health is equally as connected to a good night’s sleep as mental or physical health. When your gut suffers, your sleep suffers, and vice versa, which can all lead to even more health issues.
So with that connection, it’s important to know how gut health is related to sleep.
Being sleep-deprived can have a big effect on your appetite and weight. Depending on the person, sleep deprivation could make someone hungrier, and even cause them to gain weight.
There are two main reasons for this. First, sleep deprivation decreases the level of leptin, a hormone responsible for satiety, and increases the hormone ghrelin, which is responsible for hunger. That’s why people often gain weight faster when they’re sleep-deprived.
Second, sleep deprivation has an impact on the part of the brain that’s responsible for impulse control, meaning people find it harder to control themselves when it comes to eating. In turn, the weight gain a person experiences from this can cause them to have more problems sleeping, or even mental health disorders.
We all know that lack of sleep can cause mental health problems, and likewise, mental health issues can negatively affect sleep. But for some, there’s something even deeper at play.
For people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other stomach issues, their gut could trigger mood changes, which could lead to anxiety and depression. These mental disorders could then lead to trouble sleeping, continuing a vicious cycle. Until recently, scientists thought mental disorders led to gut issues, but with new findings saying it’s likely the other way around, there’s hope for more effective treatment.
Just as your gut and your brain are connected, so too are your gut and circadian rhythms—part of the body’s internal clock. Each person’s body has multiple circadian rhythms, like the sleep/wake cycle, and studies show that your gut has its own rhythm. When that’s disturbed—such as by over-eating or not eating enough—it can have a negative effect on sleep.
The gut also plays a key role in the regulation of other circadian rhythms in your body, like hormone release and metabolism.
So next time you have a gut feeling, listen a little more closely and identify where it’s coming from. It’s probably your body trying to tell you something about your health.