Gut Health and Sleep: How Are They Connected?

By Molly Knudsen, MS, RDN

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults need seven or more hours of sleep each night to support overall health.1 Unfortunately, a staggering 35.2% of adults fall short of this goal, experiencing what is known as short sleep duration.1 This lack of sleep can have a significant impact on both our mental and physical wellbeing.1

Getting a restful night's sleep can be a challenge for many reasons. Exposure to light, electronic media usage, and caffeine consumption late at night are all habits that have been shown to contribute to poor sleep quality.2 Mounting evidence suggests that a lack of sleep might be linked to an unexpected source: our gut health.

What is the gut-brain axis?

It’s common knowledge that sleep plays a crucial role in brain health and function. But what does gut health have to do with your sleep?

Surprisingly, your gut and brain are in constant communication. They are connected through what is called the gut-brain axis. Studies suggest a strong link between the gut-brain axis and our sleep quality, where microbiome diversity plays a pivotal role.3 The “gut” in gut-brain axis refers to the microbiome, or the collection of all microorganisms like bacteria, yeasts, and fungi that live in the intestines. The gut-brain axis is a two-way communication system. This means that the microorganisms in the gut can influence health, while a person's mental and emotional state can also impact the microbiome.4

What is known about gut health and sleep patterns?

The science of gut health and sleep is still emerging, but one recent study was able to dig a little deeper into the relationship between microbiome diversity and sleep quality.4 In this study, 40 healthy men wore an Actiwatch®, a sophisticated smartwatch, for 30 days. This device tracked their sleep patterns, from bedtime to waking up; sleep efficiency; and the frequency of nighttime awakenings. Stool samples were also collected to assess the richness and diversity of their microbiome, including the number of bacterial species and individual bacteria.

The study revealed an interesting correlation: enhanced microbiome diversity and richness were linked to improved sleep efficiency and longer sleep duration. Furthermore, a more diverse and richer microbiome was associated with fewer interruptions and disturbances during the night.

So, the key takeaway here? Our microbiome diversity likely influences our sleep patterns. In addition, other studies have found that short-term sleep deprivation can affect the balance of gut bacteria, further emphasizing the connection between the gut and brain.5 This means that not only can gut health impact sleep and the brain, but poor sleep can also have a negative effect on the gut bacteria.

What are ways to promote gut health for better sleep?

Eat a varied diet: The more diverse the diet, the more diverse the microbiome!6 Load up on a variety of different-colored fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources like fish and legumes.

Eat a diet rich in fibrous foods: Adding fiber-rich foods to your diet can be a game changer for your gut health. Incorporating a diverse range of plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, peas, and lentils, is a proactive step towards improving your overall gut health and quality of sleep.7

Eat fermented foods: Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and kombucha often contain live beneficial microorganisms, which may contribute to intestinal health.8

Metagenics offers a variety of products to support gut health and restful sleep:

  1. Formulas for occasional sleeplessness: MetaRelax, Tran-Q Sleep™
  2. Formulas to help you fall and stay asleep: MetaSleep™
  3. Formulas to support a healthy gut microbiome: UltraFlora® Balance, UltraFlora® BiomePro, UltraFlora® Spectrum, UltraFlora® Synergy


  1. Sleep and sleep disorders. Accessed January 2020.
  2. Shochat T. Impact of lifestyle and technology developments on sleep. Nat Sci Sleep. 2012;4:19–31.
  3. Carabotti M et al. The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems. Ann Gastroenterol. 2015:28(2):203-209.
  4. Smith RP et al. Gut microbiome diversity is associated with sleep physiology in humans. PLoS ONE. 2019; 14(10): e0222394.
  5. Thaiss CA et al. Transkingdom control of microbiota diurnal oscillations promotes metabolic homeostasis. Cell. 2014;159(3):514-529.
  6. Heiman ML et al. A healthy gastrointestinal microbiome is dependent on dietary diversity. Mol Metab. 2016:5(5):317-320.
  7. Makki K et al. The impact of dietary fiber on gut microbiota in host health and disease: Cell Host Microbe. 2018;23(6):705-715.
  8. Bell V et al. One health, fermented foods, and gut microbiota. Foods. 2018;7(12):195.

Actiwatch® is a registered trademark of Respironics, Inc.

This content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare professional for advice on medical issues. For more information on gut and neurological health, visit the Metagenics blog.

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