9 Ways Your Sleep Habits Can Affect Your Gut Health

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You might not think that your sleep and your gut health have that much to do with each other, but according to experts, they definitely do. In fact, everything from what kind of food you eat as a bedtime snack to whether you sleep on your stomach or on your back can influence how well you sleep and your digestion at the same time.

So how are these two systems connected? "Any sleep habit that harms your body's natural sleep/wake cycle and causes fragmented or poor-quality sleep can also negatively affect your gut health," Dr. Kent Smith, a sleep expert and president of the American Sleep & Breathing Academy, tells Bustle. For example, not getting enough sleep over an extended period of time can throw off the balance of good bacteria in your gut microbiome, he says, which compromises the immune system and leads to an increased risk of disease, fatigue, and issues with memory and concentration.

"An estimated 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep-related disorder," Dr. Smith says, so if you consistently have trouble with your sleep, don't hesitate to bring up the issue with your doctor. Not only will getting help improve your sleep, he says, but it can also help prevent a number of serious health issues including heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.

Here are some ways your sleep habits affect your gut health, according to experts.

1. Eating Dinner Right Before Bed

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If you get home from work late or go to the gym at the end of the day, you might be in the habit of having dinner pretty much right before you go to bed. While a light snack probably won't have too much of an effect on your sleep or your gut, eating a solid meal can. "High-fat foods require your digestive system to work hard to break down and store all of the energy you’ve consumed," Dr. Smith says. Trying to sleep while your gut is still working to digest your food can keep you up and cause a stomach ache or gas, he says.

2. Having A Nightcap

Whether you're going out on the weekends or just having some wine at home before bed, drinking alcohol before you fall asleep can cause a number of problems. "[This] may prevent you from getting quality rest by inhibiting REM sleep, interrupting sleep patterns, and exacerbating breathing problems," Dr. Smith says. Not to mention, alcohol can cause gut inflammation, so you're much better off having a glass of wine with dinner than drinking it on an empty stomach right before you climb into bed.

3. Not Sticking To A Sleep Schedule

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"In order for your body’s internal clock to function properly, it is important to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning," Dr. Smith says, "regardless of what day of the week it is." There is a strong connection between sleep regulation and gut health, he says, so getting into a solid routine can benefit your gut, digestive, metabolic, and immune health, plus it can help you sleep more soundly than ever.

4. Using Your Phone In Bed

Like pretty much anyone with a phone, you probably use it in bed right before falling asleep. "Blue light from screens before bed decreases melatonin production," naturopathic doctor Lea Wester, tells Bustle. But that's not the only thing it can affect. "In the gut, melatonin plays a role in motility," she says. "If there is less melatonin, then there is also less motility. This can have significant consequences to overall gut health." Low motility can lead to constipation, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and heartburn, so you might want to consider swapping out your phone for a riveting book or some light journaling before you hit the hay.

5. Having Dessert Right Before Bed

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If you think about the perfect midnight snack, chances are you think about cookies or ice cream. While this is a fun and delicious ritual, eating dessert too close to bedtime can cause some problems with both your sleep and your gut. This habit can stimulate you and make it difficult to drift off, Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, a sleep and nutrition expert and the author of Hormone Balance, tells Bustle. Plus, for people who have yeast overgrowth, she says, the sugar can feed intestinal organisms and contribute to heartburn, gas, and bloating keeping them awake.

6. Not Creating A Good Sleep Environment

For many people, something as small as a light shining through the blinds or feeling too hot can prevent them from falling into a sound sleep. Creating an environment that helps you sleep solidly, whether that means getting blackout curtains or keeping the air conditioning on, is crucial for your sleep health and gut health. "If you are not sleeping through the night, your body looks for other ways to fuel it," Jacklyn Renee, a holistic health coach specializing in gut health, tells Bustle. Not sleeping soundly can cause people to crave sugar and caffeine more than they usually would, she says, which can lead to gut inflammation. Your body needs deep sleep to restore itself and remove any toxins.

7. Pulling All-Nighters

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One of the functions of the gut bacteria is that they help absorb and produce micronutrients. "For example, they play a role in iron and zinc absorption and help synthesize vitamin K, folic acid, and B12," Julie Lambert, a certified sleep expert at Happysleepyhead, tells Bustle. "So, if you’re used to pulling all-nighters regularly, you may encounter the deficiency of these nutrients sooner or later."

8. Sleeping On Your Stomach

If you're someone who can't seem to fall asleep without resting on your front, you could potentially be irritating your gut. "When you’re hugging your pillow this way, your stomach and esophagus form a straight line, which can potentially cause heartburn or provoke acid reflux," Lambert says.

9. Being A Night Owl

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Even if you're getting enough sleep, when you're getting that sleep can make a difference in terms of your gut health, Dr. William Li, gut health expert and author of Eat To Beat Disease, tells Bustle. Namely, being away during normal sleeping hours like you would while working a night shift can alter the ecosystem of your gut bacteria and interfere with your body’s natural circadian rhythm, he says.

At the end of the day, you aren't going to be able to get a perfect night of sleep every night or have perfect gut health all the time, and that's OK. As long as you're doing your best to make the little swaps that help your body work and feel better, you'll be doing great.