Michele G. of Conscious Life News writes:
Almost 60 million Americans spend their nights in fitful slumber; tossing and turning, wrestling with the need to get to sleep, and yet torturously being unable to do so.
We all know those nights when no amount of counting sheep will work and each hour stretches by with increasing frustration.
Yet there are many options to help you sleep better, ranging from meditation to aromatherapy. But what if the solution was actually in your gut of all places?
Tell Me About The Sleep-Gut Connection!
Believe it or not, what’s happening in your belly right now will play a factor in how well you sleep tonight.
Why? Because the gut influences our brain, and the brain regulates our sleep.
Previously, it was thought that the gut simply oversaw the digestion of our food. As it turns out, our gut does a whole lot more than digestion.
Our gut actually has a profound impact on many neurological functions. In fact, your gut contains so much neural tissue that it has been called ‘the second brain’.
Furthermore, our gut plays host to over 30 types of neurotransmitters (like the ones found in your brain). The gut also contains 100 million neurons, which is higher than the amount found in our spinal cord! And if you need more proof of your gut’s brain-like properties, at least 95% of serotonin – an important neurotransmitter for cognitive function – is produced in your gut! Whoa, right?
How Does Serotonin Help With Sleep?
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects many functions within your body. You might have casually heard it referred to as the ‘happiness hormone’.
Because of its powerful effect on mood and cognition, many antidepressant drugs target serotonin. However, serotonin doesn’t just dial up our joy, it also plays a major role in regulating our body clock and related sleep cycles.
Our bodies don’t automatically make the perfect amount of serotonin every day. How much we produce is affected by many factors, including natural light, food and exercise.
How much serotonin we make has a real impact on our sleep. It is the precursor substance required to make melatonin, which has been referred to as the ‘get-good-sleep’ hormone.
Our guts hold over 400 times more melatonin than the pineal gland! Researchers have also demonstrated that gut production of melatonin remains stable, even after the pineal gland is removed. This highlights what a foundational, autonomous role the gut plays in regulating our sleep.
Interestingly, low levels of melatonin have also been linked with Leaky Gut!
How Does Sleep Work?
Sleep is largely overseen by our circadian rhythm (CR), which is ultimately controlled by certain nerves within the hypothalamus of your brain. This is a constant, round-the-clock timing system that governs a whole bunch of physiological processes.
Your CR is bit like a master control room, and it calls the shots on many aspects of digestion, appetite, blood pressure, immunity, body temperature, mental alertness and the release of various hormones. Incidentally, it also helps to regulate your sleep cycles.
Unfortunately, your hypothalamus and CR is greatly affected by outside factors! This means that what happens in our outside and inside environment can influence the CR, and subsequently, our sleep.
Light is a great example of an external factor that influences our hypothalamus and CR. Light is filtered through our eyes and signals to the hypothalamus that it’s ‘wake-up’ time.
The hypothalamus then passes along these ‘wake-up’ signals to jolt corresponding organs, glands and physiological systems into action. It also tells our body to make more of our ‘daytime/awake’ hormones and other neurotransmitters that influence our biological clock.
If humans were still living in the wild, the stimulus of light from the natural environment would be a friendly asset to our hypothalamus.
However, as you know, we no longer live outdoors. In fact, the average American spends as little as 7% of their life outside! This means that our hypothalamus no longer marches to the beat of a natural light rhythm. Instead, we are exposed to artificial lighting, computer screens, televisions and phones that all send light signals to our brain long after the sun’s gone down.
It’s a double whammy: we get too much light at night and not enough throughout the day. This interferes with our hypothalamus, CR and serotonin production and makes it easier for our natural sleep cycles to be thrown out of whack.
Read more HERE.