Many clients I help with sleep issues have an unhealthy gut. It’s no coincidence. Their gut health contributes to their insomnia in a few different ways.

Let me explain.

In case you haven’t heard of the microbiome, you have trillions of bacteria, fungi and other microbes living in your body, primarily in your gut. According to Harvard’s “The Nutrition Source,” “microbiota stimulate the immune system, break down potentially toxic food compounds, and synthesize certain vitamins and amino acids.” If your gut is damaged, then it’s not able to do these extremely important functions.

There are three ways your gut could be unhealthy:

• An infection from a parasite (like giardia), bacteria (think c. difficile) or fungus (candida is the most common)

• Gut dysbiosis or an imbalance of gut bacteria

• Leaky gut, also called intestinal permeability, which means the lining of your gut wall has been damaged

How does this affect your sleep? If you have a gut infection, those lovely creatures are most active at night. So in the middle of the night, they’re eating, excreting and releasing toxins, which causes lots of inflammation. Cortisol comes to the rescue as an anti-inflammatory hormone, but it also wakes you up.

The most common reason I find my clients wake up at 3 a.m. is because they have a gut infection. These infections lead to gut dysbiosis and leaky gut, and it’s impossible to heal the gut and for beneficial bacteria to thrive if you don’t address the infection.

With gut dysbiosis, opportunistic and pathogenic bacteria have overtaken the good bacteria. Good bacteria are in charge of making B vitamins and vitamin K as well as neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and GABA. In fact, 95% of serotonin is made in the gut. Your body uses serotonin to make melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep. When bad bacteria run the show, the good bacteria can’t do their job of producing these hormones that help you feel good, relax and sleep. That’s why so many people who have insomnia also experience anxiety and/or depression and other mental disorders.

To explain leaky gut, imagine that your gut wall looks like a zipper. The teeth of the zipper act as a barrier. They stay close together and don’t let anything through. But if the zipper teeth get damaged and broken, air and dirt can get in and the zipper won’t work properly.

It’s the same with your gut wall. When your gut wall is damaged and has gaps between the cells, undigested food particles, toxic waste products and bacteria leak through and enter the bloodstream. These toxins cause lots of inflammation, day and night. Whenever there’s inflammation, your body releases cortisol. When cortisol is released at night, it suppresses melatonin and wakes you up when you want to be asleep.

You develop leaky gut from stress, toxins like antibiotics and pesticides, eating foods you’re sensitive to, and gut infections from parasites or candida.

Some signs of leaky gut include:

• digestive issues

• food sensitivities or allergies

• brain fog

• depression and/or anxiety

• skin issues

• seasonal allergies

• hormonal imbalances

• autoimmunity issues

• sleep disturbances

If you have some of these symptoms, you most likely have a gut infection, gut dysbiosis and/or leaky gut. The best way to find out for sure what’s going on in your gut is to perform a gastrointestinal or GI map. This stool test shows what pathogens, opportunistic bacteria and beneficial bacteria live in your digestive system, and tests for leaky gut as well.

As you can see, what’s going on in your gut has an enormous effect on your health. If your gut isn’t healthy, your mood and your sleep won’t be healthy either. The good news is that you can get to the root cause of what’s causing your insomnia by working with a skilled practitioner who knows what tests to use, how to interpret them and what to recommend based on the results and your health history.

As always, wishing you a good night’s sleep.

Martha Lewis, a certified sleep consultant, is founder and CEO of the Complete Sleep Solution. Contact her via columnists@jhnewsandguide.com. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @completesleepsolution.

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