Does the gut and stress affect your sleep?
Written by Naturopath Sara Judd

Sleep & Your Gut
Written by Naturopath Sara Judd

Sleep issues are abundant in our country. About one in three Australians are affected by sleep deprivation. Almost half of the adult population do not get quality sleep.

This can have a huge impact on the operation of our digestion and gut. Do you ever experience constipation, bloating, or gas? What about food sensitivities? Poor sleep quality can reduce bile acids and short-chain fatty acids which are both beneficial to gut function and digestion. Cytokines, which are pro-inflammatory molecules, can be increased by lack of sleep.

A few nights of bad sleep can throw the whole body out of balance. Our hormones are affected very quickly. Insulin sensitivity is reduced, ghrelin (the hunger hormone) increases, and leptin (the satiety hormone) decreases. This makes us prone to making poor food choices and increases our appetite. A lot.

After just 48 hours of poor sleep, our microbiome begins to change and can result in dysbiosis. Metabolic imbalance, type 2 diabetes, and obesity risk rises as overgrowth of certain bacteria occurs. Intestinal permeability, or “Leaky gut” may result as the increased gut inflammation wears down the intestinal lining, letting metabolites and bacteria fragments penetrate the gap junctions. This causes more inflammation and disturbances throughout the body.

Digestive issues can be further accentuated as we age. Impaired digestive function occurs due to a decrease in hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes. Both are important for digestion of our food and can cause a decrease in nutrient absorption.

A two-way street

This relationship between sleep and the gut is bi-directional. There are neurotransmitters such as serotonin that are mainly produced in the gut (approximately 90%). These essential substances use the vagus nerve, which is like the highway that connects your gut to your brain, to transport these substances to help you sleep.

The microbiome and specific bacteria in our gut are responsible for the levels of serotonin produced. Many people have heard of melatonin (the sleep hormone). Serotonin is a precursor to melatonin, which means it is needed to support our sleep cycles.


The relationship between cortisol, sleep, and digestive function is like a system of its own. They are all connected and rely on each other to keep the body running smoothly.
After a poor night of sleep cortisol can rise. This “stress hormone” kicks in your sympathetic nervous system, telling your body that digestion is not the priority. This decrease in digestive function can further lead to leaky gut, which in turn leads to a decrease in neurotransmitter production, resulting in poor sleep function.

The silver lining

There is good news! Reducing snacking between meals can allow your digestive system to rest. This is where the healing happens. When you do eat, try to avoid ultra-processed, high sugar foods. Avoid mindless snacking by trying not to eat on the move, while on your computer or in front of the television.

Incorporate probiotic foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir, which are full of live microbes that will help populate your gut. We need to feed these microbes with prebiotic foods. Adopting a high fibre diet by increasing variety of whole foods encourages the diversity of your microbiome. Your food is their food, so “eat the rainbow”. Try to incorporate at least 30 different plant-based foods every week. Your trillions of bacteria will thrive, and your sleep will thank you for it.

Prioritize your sleep!

Make sure to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Your long-term health depends on it. There are small changes that you can make now to help improve your sleep tonight, such as eating your last meal at least 2 hours before going to sleep, not consuming caffeine late in the day, avoiding alcohol and screen time before sleep, and trying to keep evening activities stress free.

Practice some mindfulness. Try meditation, nature walks in the sunshine, going to the beach. Yin yoga is another excellent way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing the body and mind to relax.

Additionally, keeping a cool bedroom at bedtime and getting some natural sunlight into your eyes first thing in the morning supports sleep onset.

For further support there are specific herbs and supplements that can be highly beneficial under the recommendation of your natural health practitioner based on your individual needs. 

Ready to start sleeping better?

Sara Judd Naturopath

Meet Sara Judd- Author of this post

Sara consults in all areas of health. Sara is highly intuitive. She has a keen eye for digestive problems. Many health conditions are highly influenced by the gut. Sara addresses gut rehabilitation with a combination of proper diagnostic testing and naturopathic therapies which work to repair and restore the digestive tract, and ultimately re-establish gut health.

While she loves the traditional naturopathic principals, Sara values evidence-based science and loves measurable data. She is big on pathology testing to get confirmation about exactly what needs to be worked on. This helps her find the issues that need to be addressed, rather than educated “guessing”, leading to a faster recovery and improvement in symptoms.

Make a booking with Sara or one of our other amazing Naturopaths or ask us a question!

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