If you frequently have trouble falling asleep or find that you wake up in the middle of the night and cannot fall back asleep, read on.
While a healthy gut and a good night's sleep may not seem to have much in common, the reality is that your nighttime zzz's are dependent on several factors, all of which have a relationship to a happy and healthy gastrointestinal tract.
Stress is often the most common factor affecting sleep patterns.
Whether it is long work hours, a new baby, mental restlessness, or a state of illness, when cortisol levels rise and fall erratically, this sets the body up for adrenal fatigue. Chronic states of alarm or sustained period of stress will disrupt what is known as the circadian rhythm.
The Circadian Rhythm
The circadian rhythm is the circulation of cortisol in the body, based on various times in a 24-hour day. A healthy individual will feel bright and energetic in the morning and grow sleepy in the evening. If you have issues with falling asleep easily, staying asleep, or if you wake up fatigued, these are all symptoms of adrenal stress. If cortisol levels frequently peak and valley throughout the day, this could indicate a faulty connection between the adrenal glands and the brain.
Take steps to support your adrenals and get a good night's rest:
- Remove coffee from the diet. Decaffeinated coffee is never a good replacement because it is still 60% caffeinated. (1)
- Think about allergies. Foods and substances that induce an allergic response will actually release histamine in the body. Histamine is an adrenal stimulant, so it makes sense to determine which foods induce an allergic response and remove them from the diet.
- Get rid of bad fats and focus on consuming only good fats. Partially hydrogenated fats inhibit adrenal hormone synthesis.
- Avoid overtraining or physically pushing the body beyond its limits.
- Do not eat sweet or sugary foods before bed. This may cause a blood sugar crash during the night, calling your adrenals into action. Commonly, this is associated with waking up around 3 AM.
- Get a good night's sleep. Yes, lack of sleep and adrenal stress can become a vicious cycle.
Insomnia is no laughing matter! If you're having trouble sleeping at night, it's time to look to your gut health to reduce inflammation in your body so that you can finally get the rest you need.
How the Gut Relates to Stress
When the gut is inflamed, infected, or not functioning properly, this is a major stressor on adrenal function and can potentially overwork and exhaust the immune system. A large mass of lymphoid tissue sits just beneath the gastrointestinal wall and is in constant dialogue with the other elements of the gut mucosal barrier, such beneficial microflora. The network of immune cells and the gastrointestinal tract are both systems in the body that are extraordinarily sensitive to each other and work in close proximity to one another.
It is important to note that a large percentage of people with gut permeability never actually manifest gastrointestinal symptoms; signs of an excited immune system and inflammation will arise elsewhere in the body.
Prolonged inflammation anywhere in the body is a good indicator to investigate adrenal stress. Additionally, unidentified food sensitivities, which may not even manifest as gastrointestinal symptoms, can trigger an immune response and also stress the adrenal glands.
Consuming foods rich in probiotics is absolutely essential to supporting the integrity of the gastrointestinal lining. Enzyme support is present in food but best when taken therapeutically as a supplement. Assisting the body with enzymes is imperative to healing a permeable gut.
Both good bacteria and an adequate amount of enzymes can help to minimize an immune response, and therefore cool down inflammation. These two elements are ubiquitous not only to a healthy digestive tract but also to longevity, mental clarity, and sustained levels of energy throughout the day. Try Body Ecology's Assist line of Enzymes and Probiotic Beverages to balance your digestive tract.
Recent studies have shown that a mother can pass adrenal fatigue on to her child. In her third trimester of pregnancy, a mother will actually draw adrenal hormones from her baby through the umbilical cord. The result is an increased risk of the child being born with compromised adrenal function.
Just as in adults, adrenal function has a close relationship with the immune system and the health of the gut. There is a good chance that a mother's adrenal exhaustion may partially account for increased rates of allergies, food intolerances, and autism in children. (2)(3)
The Hormone Connection
Menopause is often associated with insomnia and disrupted sleep. Fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone have a demonstrated relationship to insomnia, heart palpitations, hot flashes, and night sweats.
Additionally, if cortisol demands are high, something takes place known as "the pregnenalone steal": DHEA is diverted away from making reproductive hormones and used instead to produce cortisol. Ongoing pregnenalone steal can cause a major reproductive hormone imbalance.
A neurotransmitter deficiency can be at the root of insomnia.
A deficiency or breakdown in the pathways of both serotonin and dopamine can result in restless sleep or the inability to fall asleep. The most common cause for either deficiency is poor blood sugar control. Most Americans have some degree of insulin resistance, hypoglycemia, or diabetes. Dysglycemia, the inability to keep blood sugar levels stable, weakens and inflames the barriers of the digestive tract. (4)
Both hypoglycemia and insulin resistance need to be checked and regulated when assessing levels of neurotransmitters, as well as compromised adrenal function mentioned above. Both can affect quality of sleep. Not only do high and irregular levels of cortisol affect the circadian clock, but they also lead to insulin resistance and both have been associated with neurotransmitter deficiency. Stabilizing blood sugar levels is necessary to address neurotransmitter activity and to repair adrenal health.
The gut actually makes 90% of the neurotransmitters in your body. A part of working with a neurotransmitter deficiency is making sure that the digestive tract is functioning properly. Enzymes and Probiotic Beverages are the place to start. Any kind of inflammation in the digestive tract, which is common with a permeable gut, will compromise gut function.
WHAT TO REMEMBER MOST ABOUT THIS ARTICLE:
One of the most important aspects of health to remember is that all systems in the body are connected and interdependent with one another. When looking at any disorder, it is very important to consider all possible mechanisms involved.
Chronic insomnia could be triggered by:
- Stress, erratic levels of cortisol, or adrenal fatigue
- Fluctuating levels of reproductive hormones
- Blood sugar imbalance
- Neurotransmitter deficiency
Each of these conditions often has a relationship with another imbalance. Following Body Ecology principles and using tools to reduce any inflammatory response in the gut are baseline approaches to curtail bouts of insomnia.
- Kharrazian, Datis. _Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms_. New York : MJ Publishing. 2010. Loc. 2312.
- "Effects of Maternal Prenatal Stress on Offspring Development: A Commentary". Arch Womens Ment Health. 2008; Oct 31.
- "Prenatal Exposure to Mental Depression, Neonatal Methylation of Human Corticoid Receptor Gene (NR3C1) and Infant Cortisol Stress Response". Epigenetics. 2008 Mar - April; 3 (2):97 - 106.
- Scott, H et al. Scan J Gastroenterol. 1980, 15:81.