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  • Last modified 64 days ago (Sept. 12, 2019)

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Could gut health be the key to good sleep?

Staff writer

Chelsea Darrow, 33, of Marion, says her gut health is a barometer for restful sleep. She said she used to have trouble sleeping at night. She often experienced anxiety and depression. Sometimes, millions of thoughts went racing through her mind, keeping her awake. She didn’t feel rested the next day.

For the past four-and-a-half years, she has been taking a probiotic supplement that contains numerous strains of live bacteria.

“It has really helped,” she said. “I have no problems sleeping.”

She said she doesn’t have to worry as much about what she eats, such as products with gluten or sugar, because a balanced gut can handle them.

According to Harvard Health News, the gut-brain connection is no joke; anxiety and stomach problems can be linked.

A person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That’s because the brain and the gastrointestinal system are intimately connected.

Beneficial bacteria in the gut can communicate with the brain by the vagus nerve, a cranial nerve that extends from the brainstem to the abdomen.

Trillions of bacteria, known as microbes, are responsible for many bodily functions, from regulating the immune system, optimizing digestion, balancing moods, and even promoting sleep.

It is important to have a large number of these good bacteria in the gut to make this happen. Modern-day food may not supply enough of them, but probiotic supplements can boost their numbers.

Foods containing probiotics include fermented products such as yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles, sourdough bread, and cheese. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains promote the growth of good bacteria.

Some products kill good bacteria, including antibiotics, environmental toxins, and processed foods.

Gut bacteria produce and regulate hormones and neurotransmitters that promote calm and relaxation. They can lower cortisol levels, a stress hormone that triggers anxiety.

Scientists say that 90 percent of the body’s serotonin, the mood-regulating chemical, is produced in the gut and regulated by gut bacteria. Ample amounts of serotonin can help to prevent sleep-disrupting disorders like depression.

The brain’s production of melatonin is enhanced by bacterial activity in the gut, to keep wake-sleep cycles in sync.

Eating nutritious food and exercising keep the microbes working well.

Mary Raleigh of Marion said she has to avoid taking naps during the day if she wants to sleep well at night.

“I try to stay busy so I don’t take a nap,” she said.

She waits until she feels tired to go to bed. Using lots of pillows helps, too, she said.

Tracy Grafton, an advanced registered practice nurse at St. Luke Medical Clinic, tells patients who have trouble sleeping to go to bed and get up at the same time every day. They should avoid caffeine in the evening and do calming activities. Keeping the bedroom dark and quiet helps, too. Sound machines are available.

Grafton said she avoids prescribing sleep medications because they can be addictive. She suggests taking a melatonin supplement, starting with a low dose of 3 to 5 mgs., increasing the dosage, if necessary.

Last modified Sept. 12, 2019

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