We know that the gut-brain connection is so important that the populations of bacteria, called the microbiome, inside the gut is referred to as the “second brain.” The balances or imbalances of the bacteria inside the intestinal tract has a huge impact on the quality of mental health and physical health we experience. If we eat food that the not-so-good bacteria thrives upon, we set ourselves up for an imbalance to occur—but how do we feed the good bacteria so it stays in a perfect balance?
While probiotics are the first thing that comes to mind, a special type of fiber called prebiotics is one sure way to keep the good bacteria well-fed and present within the microbiome. New research points out that prebiotics may also help you sleep better!
Prebiotics are a special type of fiber that is found in certain vegetables and whole grains. Jerusalem artichokes, onions, chicory root, and other specific vegetables are especially high in prebiotic fiber. Whole grains are high in prebiotic fiber, as well as some fiber supplements. Consuming the optimal amount of fiber daily is important for digestive and cardiovascular health, but it’s also an important way to feed the good bacteria within our bodies.
The study that was recently published in Scientific Reports analyzed the effects of prebiotics in animal studies which found that consuming prebiotics led to longer times spent in non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) and rapid-eye-movement sleep (REM). REM sleep is an important type of sleep that helps the body recover from stress. After stressful events, the animals that ate food with prebiotics were protected from some of the other effects that the non-prebiotic group experienced. The control group that did not receive prebiotic food had an imbalance in their gut bacteria’s diversity and their body temperature fluctuated after stress tests.
The researchers studied the fecal samples of the animals to look at their metabolites (small components of foods left over after digestion). Those who consumed prebiotics had significantly more metabolites from sugars, fatty acids, and natural steroids which are believed to influence the connection to the brain and sleeping patterns.
The prebiotics that the animals ate included polydextrose, galactooligosaccharides, lactoferrin, and milk fat globular protein. The polydextrose is a synthetic food additive used to add fiber to many foods, while the galactooligosaccharides can be found in cabbage and lentils, and the lactoferrin is found in breast milk. Further studies on the other types of prebiotics and sleep are underway, as well as targeted studies on sleep involving humans and prebiotics. Always be sure to discuss the supplements you choose to take with your healthcare practitioner.
You can find prebiotics in many common foods, such as bananas, garlic, asparagus, oats, barley, konjac root, apples, cocoa, flaxseeds, wheat bran, and many more. You can also find supplements that have prebiotics, such as acacia fiber, polydextrose, wheat dextrin, chicory root (also known as inulin) and others. Remember, with prebiotic and probiotic supplements, each individual may have different results from the same product. This is due to the microbiome that is uniquely yours. Some types of supplemental prebiotic fiber will not work as well for you as it does for other people, and some can cause gas and bloating.
When working with your intestinal microbiome to help you sleep, remember to eat fiber because it does so much good for your body.
Robert S. Thompson, Fernando Vargas, Pieter C. Dorrestein, Maciej Chichlowski, Brian M. Berg, Monika Fleshner. Dietary prebiotics alter novel microbial dependent fecal metabolites that improve sleep. Scientific Reports, 2020; 10 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-60679-y