Is Poor Sleep Causing Your Digestive Symptoms?

Many of our nutrition clients are surprised that we spend quite a bit of time addressing other aspects of our life besides food.  But here’s the deal… it’s quite possible that there are other factors contributing to your symptoms of IBS, SIBO or acid reflux that have nothing to do with food. 

This article is the second of three in a series about how stress, sleep and exercise can have a huge impact on our digestive health.  Be sure to read the article on how stress can affect your digestive system, if you missed it. 

Today’s topic is sleep.  I think we can all agree that we feel pretty great after a good night sleep.  And how crappy we feel after a night of poor sleep.  There’s a reason for that.  Sleep is vital for health and essential for gut healing.

What Does Our Body Do While Sleeping?

It may seem counterintuitive but while we are resting, our body and brain are active during sleep completing tasks we need to function properly.  

  • Sleep helps support our memory by clearing toxins from the brain.
  • Our body’s cells are reenergized during sleep. 
  • Our immune system relies on sleep to make more white blood cells so it can fight bacteria, viruses and antigens. 
  • Growth hormones are released which help with muscle development and tissue repair.

What Does Our Digestive System Do While Sleeping?

Simply put, digestion slows down.

  • Our digestive tract has a night job. It slows down in order to repair damaged cells of the digestive tract and focus on gut healing. 
  • When you eat late at night, you’re not giving your digestive system a chance to rest, so digestion continues (albeit slowly) while you’re asleep.  
  • Slowed and impaired digestion can lead to numerous digestive issues such as acid reflux, constipation, bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
  • And what about gut healing?  That’s hard to do when your intestines are struggling to digest food at a time in which it’s supposed to be repairing.

Moral of the story? Avoid eating after dinner and try to leave 12 hours in between your last bite of food at night and your first bite or sip the next morning.   

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

It’s important to get between 7-9 hours of restful sleep each night because the quality of your sleep affects your mental and physical health. Sleeping less than the recommended time or tossing, turning and waking frequently can take a toll on your mood, energy, mental sharpness and ability to handle stress. And we already know what stress can do to our digestive health!

How To Get More Restful Sleep?

Take a look our top tips for more restful sleep and see where you can easily make changes. 

  • Turn off all screens at least 60 minutes before bed.  The blue light emanating from our phones, I-Pads, and televisions is too stimulating and can actually decrease the amount of the sleep hormone melatonin your body produces.
  • Keep your bedroom temperature “cool as a cave” as the drop in temperature signals to the body that it’s time for sleep.
  • On that note, try taking a warm bath or shower before bed. Your body temperature will drop when the moisture evaporates when toweling off.
  • Avoid caffeine late in the day as well as late afternoon naps.
  • Try journaling before bed to help with anxious thoughts.
  • Make your to-do list before bed so you aren’t thinking of tomorrow’s workday as your try to go to sleep.
  • Create a quiet and dark space with comfortable bedding.
  • Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.

As I tell my clients, a gut-healing diet for IBS, SIBO, acid reflux or other digestive conditions can only do so much if you aren’t getting quality sleep. 

By making restful sleep a high priority, not only will your digestion improve but I have no doubt that you will have more energy, more focus and experience a better mood throughout the day. 

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