HOW DOES THE LACK OF SLEEP AFFECT YOUR DIGESTIVE SYSTEM?

Quynh Anh Nguyen

With the increasing workload at school and at work, people nowadays tend to stay up very late at night or even pull an all-nighter to finish up their tasks. Effects of the lack of sleep, such as decreasing the capacity to learn and retain information, and reducing productivity or accuracy in working are commonly known (Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, n.d.). However, although they range from mild to severe levels, the consequences that insufficient sleep results on our digestive system are much less widely acknowledged. So, how does the lack of sleep affect our digestive health?

According to Dr. Ryan Barish, “Digestive health can play a role in how well someone sleeps, and sleep can affect how well the digestive system functions. It’s a two-way street” (Henry Ford Health System, 2021). Particularly, the lack of sleep has various effects on the activity of our gut.

The lack of sleep often leads to an increasing level of stress, which can cause intestinal permeability issues, or leaky gut. This creates gaps, cracks, or holes on the intestinal wall, allowing digested food and toxins to penetrate into the bloodstream. Consequently, a leaky gut creates inflammation and stomach aches. In longer terms, it might modify our gut microbiome, resulting in digestive diseases (Campos, 2021)

Sleep deprivation can also lead to the rise of the level of ghrelin (Schmid, Hallschmid, lauch-Chara, Born, Schultes, 2008) - ‘the hunger hormone’ which stimulates your appetite and the desire to consume food (Müller, 2015). As a result, you are likely to snack, or have late night meals, which are unhealthy for both your gut and your body. This is due to the lower rate of physical activity at night, thus, the calories you consume are more likely to be stored as fat, and potentially leads to weight gain.

Recent studies also found that continuous insufficient sleep can put us at risk of developing digestive diseases. Specifically, sleep deprivation is strongly linked to Proinflammatory cytokines- signalling molecules that promote inflammation. Changes in the cytokines are likely to result in many gastrointestinal diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), a disease causing prolonged inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), causing reflux of stomach acid which irritates the esophagus, and liver disorders (Khanijow, Prakash, Emsellem, Borum, Doman, 2015).

With these negative consequences in mind, it is very crucial for anyone, from any age group, to ensure that they get sufficient sleep every night. Specifically, it is recommended for school-aged children to get 9-12 hours, teens to get 8-10 hours, and adults to get above 7 hours of quality sleep each night (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2021). Alongside enough sleep, enhancing our diet with certain types of nutritious and healthy food can also alleviate the issues that the lack of sleep causes on our digestive systems. This includes:

● Increasing intake of food rich in fiber. This is because fiber supports beneficial gut
bacteria that play significant roles in reducing the risk of developing leaky gut.
● Try probiotic drinks or supplements to strengthen your gut microbiome and digestive
health.
● If staying up late is inevitable, it is recommended that we should try healthy snacks such
as fruits, yogurt, and smoothies if you are hungry.
● Exercise regularly, but avoid exercising before bedtime. Exercise has been well-known in
reducing the level of stress hormones, such as cortisol. This helps to counterbalance the
stress from lacking sleep, thus helps you to fall asleep easier.

Reference:
Campos, M. (2021, November 16). Leaky gut: What is it, and what does it mean for you?.Harvard Health Publishing.
https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/leaky-gut-what-is-it-and-what-does-it-mean-for-you-2017092212451
Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School (n.d.). Consequences of Insufficient Sleep. Healthy Sleep.
https://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/consequences
Henry Ford Health System (2021, February 24). How Lack Of Sleep Can Affect Gut Health.
Henry Ford LiveWell https://www.henryford.com/blog/2021/02/sleep-affects-gut-health
https://www.healthline.com/health/sleep-deprivation/effects-on-body#Digestive-system
Khanijow, V., Prakash, P., Emsellem, H. A., Borum, M. L., & Doman, D. B. (2015). Sleep
Dysfunction and Gastrointestinal Diseases. Gastroenterology & hepatology, 11(12), 817–825.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4849511/
Müller, T. D. (2015, June). Ghrelin. Molecular Metabolism.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.molmet.2015.03.005
Schmid S.M., Hallschmid M., Jauch-Chara K., Born J., Schultes B. (2008, September). A single
night of sleep deprivation increases ghrelin levels and feelings of hunger in normal-weight
healthy men. PubMed. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18564298/
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, July 8). Get Enough Sleep. My Health Finder.
https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/topics/everyday-healthy-living/mental-health-and-relationships/get-enough-sleep