If there’s one trend I’ve noticed in dental surgery, it’s how our teeth reveal sleep health. My patient’s diet and lifestyle habits impact their sleep quality. Recently, research has suggested a two-way connection between gut-health and sleep health. The sleep-gut connection is an exciting frontier of functional dentistry.
We’re constantly inundated with factors that contribute to poor sleep. Blue light from screens, sitting down for the majority of the day, high stress careers, and not getting enough sunlight are all significant impairments to our sleep.
It’s estimated that 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders and up to 80 percent of these will go undiagnosed. If you don’t get proper sleep, you can experience chronic fatigue, poor immune systems health, and teeth grinding. An estimated 31 percent of people suffer from day or nighttime teeth grinding due to disordered sleep. Poor sleep and its consequences are mostly manifestations of poor lifestyle habits, including diet.
Do you suffer from a sleep disorder? Beyond snoring
Many people believe only those who snore have a sleeping disorder, but this not the case. Though snoring is a telling symptom, there are several other symptoms of sleep disorders. Signs you may have a sleep disorder include:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Teeth grinding
- Sleeping on belly
- Digestive problems
- Cold hands and feet
- Falling asleep during the day or too quickly
- Brain fog
- Being clumsy or accident prone
- Scalloped tongue
If you have any of these symptoms you could be at risk of a sleep disorder.
It’s likely that you are not receiving the proper deep sleep your body needs. In turn, this can directly affect your gut microbiome, which results in teeth grinding at night, wrecking your circadian rhythm, and other health consequences.
Your gut microbiome has immense influence over your immune system health, brain function, hormone balance, and mood. Your gut has so much control over your bodily functions it’s referred to as the ‘second brain.’
Your gut and sleep patterns work in an axis – a two-way street of communication. They influence each other in either synergistic or antagonistic cycles. When you’re unaware of this connection, it can lead you in a downward health spiral, which can be confusing because symptoms (such as teeth grinding) seem unrelated to the gut.
Is your sleep disorder affecting your gut health? The sleep-gut connection
You’ve heard the advice time and time again, how critically important it is to create a sleep schedule for yourself to make sure you’re going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
Research explains the intricacies of the circadian rhythm and why it’s so important. Basically, your circadian rhythm is a 24 hour cycle of thousands of signals sent throughout the day, telling your body what to do and when to do it.
For example, it tells your body when it’s dark and that it should start producing more melatonin. It tells you when to relax and when to go to sleep. These are just some of the thousands of functions your circadian rhythm affects every day.
So when your circadian rhythm is off it begins to severely affect your quality of sleep. When you experience low quality sleep, your gut health is compromised. Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea may disrupt the microbiome.
Considering the high prevalence of undiagnosed sleep disorders, if you’re experiencing gut issues you should wonder if your sleep is having an effect. And if you notice you aren’t getting good sleep, consider working on healing your gut. When you address these interconnected issues, you’ll have the best chance at improving your health overall.
Your sleep and gut microbiome, what the research says
Recent findings show that your circadian rhythm and your gut microbiome are directly connected. Studies show that circadian disruption (like jet lag or shift work) – disrupts the rhythm needed to produce a healthy gut microbiome.
Another study suggests that both the microbial rhythm of your gut and that of your circadian rhythm greatly influence each other, which may directly affect your quality of sleep.
It’s imperative to make sure you aren’t drinking caffeine too late in the day, you’re getting enough vitamin D, and you’re not staying up late staring at a screen. All of these are factors that can impair deep sleep.
Here are two ways we recommend improving your sleep to help improve your gut microbiome.
Check your vitamin D levels and create a schedule
Vitamin D is closely associated with sleep quality. Vitamin D, which can mainly be derived from the sun (produced when exposed to sun) – is often overlooked when it comes to improving your sleep quality. Unfortunately, a majority of the U.S population simply do not maintain high enough levels of vitamin D. Much of this is due to our increasingly sedentary indoor lifestyles.
Research has shown that vitamin D plays an important role in maintaining good sleep, and that constantly low levels of vitamin D could result in insomnia and difficulty staying asleep.
I recommend you try and get outside at least 20 minutes a day – more is better (without burning)!
Timing your meals to match your circadian rhythm
While studies have established the connection between your metabolism, circadian rhythm, and nutrition. New research has discovered that a 5 hour delay in the time you eat, will also delay your blood sugar rhythm.
The research suggests that while meal timing only affects circadian rhythms for some people – it could be a good way to help us resynchronise our natural body clocks after working overnight or taking long flights.
Also, creating a good sleep schedule and sticking to it is critical for your gut and overall health. Your body releases hormones on schedule according to when you go to sleep and when you wake up. Be sure to go to bed and wake up at the same time as often as possible.
The dangers of teeth grinding, sleep disorders and gut health
Teeth grinding is not something people often associate with gut health and sleep. But disrupted sleeping patterns due to teeth grinding can cause major digestive issues. In turn, poor gut health can increase anxiety, which is known to cause teeth grinding.
Many people who grind their teeth are completely unaware they do this. In fact, it isn’t until they have a partner who hears their grinding that they come to find out they have this issue. It may not seem like a big deal that you grind your teeth in your sleep but teeth grinding (bruxism) is associated with psychological issues such as anxiety, stress, and other mental disorders.
The reason it’s so important to understand whether you grind your teeth in your sleep is due to the negative effect on the quality of your sleep and your gut.
Good gut health is essential for high-quality sleep
It’s evident how important your quality of sleep is to your energy levels, immune system, and metabolism. On the other hand, the research is clear that you also need good gut health to have high-quality sleep. Both are imperative for living a long, healthy, disease-free life.
If you haven’t had a good night’s sleep in a while, check your lifestyle. You may benefit from taking the right steps in addressing both your gut health and sleep habits.
I’ve found the best way to achieve good gut health and better sleep is by changing your diet. Most importantly, avoid eating sugary foods and processed carbs. Instead, aim for high amounts of green vegetables and fermented foods (such as kimchi) in order to increase the amount of good bacteria inside your body. Using a probiotic alongside getting enough vitamin D may help you sleep better at night.
6 Steps to heal your gut and improve your sleep
Let’s recap the six steps you can take right now to directly address your poor sleep and impaired gut health. When you address both issues simultaneously, you’ll find your overall health will benefit.
- Make an appointment with your dentist or GP to check for sleep disorder signs
- Increase your vitamin D intake through sun exposure (and supplements)
- Work on healing your gut with The Dental Diet 40 day meal program.
- Get on a consistent schedule
- Eat more probiotic foods
- Reduce stress levels
The first step to get better sleep is being aware of its power on your health. Through taking the right steps you can break the cycle and significantly improve your overall health.
Share this article with a friend who’s having trouble sleeping at night – it could be caused by what’s going on in their gut!
Do you suffer from sleep and gut issues? Leave your experiences in the comment section below.
Dr Steven Lin’s book, The Dental Diet, is available to order today. An exploration of ancestral medicine, the human microbiome and epigenetics it’s a complete guide to the mouth-body connection. Take the journey and the 40-day delicious food program for life-changing oral and whole health.
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