It’s no secret that sleep is a powerful tool and plays a huge role in supporting both our mental and physical health. This is a topic that has been brought to light even more at this particular time with the ongoing pandemic and we wanted to use World Sleep Day to really highlight the superpower that is sleep, how it links to gut health (a favourite topic here at Naked Biotics), and how you can give your sleep that extra boost.
It makes sense to start by highlighting the different phases to sleep. Now, you are probably already aware of these, but for those that aren’t, the four phases of sleep are made up of:
- Falling asleep
- Light sleep
- Deep sleep,
- REM sleep.
When we take a deeper look at the different sleep phases and what occurs in our body, it really comes to light why sleep is so important for our wellbeing and health. Let’s take the deep sleep phase for example - this is where an awful lot of repair goes on. Your body works hard to produce antibodies, growth hormones, and many other super important elements that attribute to your immune system and more.
Did you know, it was recently discovered that there is a 'glymphatic system' that literally opens up during the night and swooshes fluid through the brain clearing out all the gunk and bad stuff (yes, you read that correctly!)
Another vital component of sleep we need to touch upon is REM sleep, also knows as Rapid Eye Movement sleep. This is the stage where a lot of emotional processing goes on - you know those moments where you have wild dreams that feel so real? Well, this happens during REM sleep. Interestingly, during the pandemic especially, more people have been complaining about very strange and intense dreams. It’s been shown, if you don’t get enough REM sleep, you can feel a bit out of whack. I’m sure this is a feeling we can all relate to, but again this shows just how much of an impact sleep has on us and how we function/feel.
With all of this in mind, let’s look at some ways you can help improve the quality of your sleep.
Go outside - try your best to get outside during the day. Exposure to sunlight is said to increase the brain's release of serotonin, boosting our mood and helping us to feel calm and less anxious
Dim your lights - if you can, follow the natural sun cycle and dim your lights in the evening to reflect the time of day/light outside. At night, darker lighting triggers the brain to make melatonin, which is the hormone responsible for helping you sleep.
No screens in bed (you knew this was coming) - Most people find staying away from screens a difficult change to make. We live in a world where we are expected to be constantly connected to our devices. However, this will really help to supercharge your sleep quality. If you do use your phone to unwind in bed, listen to a podcast instead of scrolling. Try to do this with something lighthearted and avoid the news!
Hydrating before bed - This may seem like an odd one and of course, hydration is so important, but, the more you hydrate closer to your bedtime, the more likely you are to wake up in the night. This, of course, will disturb your sleep and won’t allow you to maintain that consistent, restorative sleeping phase.
But what about sleep and gut health, right? Well, it’s pretty simple and these two factors really go hand in hand. We often spend time thinking about our gut health and our sleep quality - but we don’t think to put them on the same page. However, we really should!
Your sleep affects the health of your gut, that’s a fact! As we mentioned earlier, the deep sleep phase is where our body goes into repair mode. This is a big deal for our gut, as our intestinal cells are replaced and regenerated every 3-5 days. Your body is literally getting rid of damaged gut cells and replacing them with brand spanking new ones. However, for this process to work best, you need high-quality sleep. It’s also important to note the effect our guts have on our sleep (so many links I know, but bear with me here!) To understand this we need to talk about melatonin. Melatonin is known as the sleep hormone - it’s produced in the pineal gland in the brain and helps to regulate the circadian rhythm (fancy word for the sleep-wake cycle) and promotes consistent, but more importantly quality rest. Now although melatonin is produced in the brain, it’s also kind of indirectly produced in the gut. Melatonin comes from serotonin and as we explored in the last blog post, the gut is responsible for producing 90% of our body’s serotonin. So if you’re noticing difficulties with your sleep and you’ve tried everything you can, keep in mind your issues could be coming from your gut.
Getting a good night’s sleep may not sound revolutionary, but when you take a closer look at just some of the points we’ve covered, it’s really clear how much of a vital effect sleep has on the body, how we feel, function and so much more. If you’re trying to better your sleep, there is no quick fix that will switch everything from one day to the other - making small changes will really help, as will simply being aware and mindful of the importance of good sleep.
- Ann-Christine Bee