Prebiotics may be able to help restore your disturbed sleep cycle

In modern times more and more of us are suffering from disruptions in our sleep schedule. Be it a result of an all-nigher, a jet lag, or the switch from standard time to daylight saving time; most people encounter it from time to time. 

Worryingly, a growing body of evidence shows that disturbing our internal biological clock impacts everything from sleep, emotions, and metabolism to the risk of certain illnesses.

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder discovered that prebiotics, which are nutritional substances that serve as food for healthy gut bacteria, could play a key role in helping us recover from a disruption in our sleep cycle.

Image Credit: Matej Kastelic via Shutterstock / HDR tune by Universal-Sci

Image Credit: Matej Kastelic via Shutterstock / HDR tune by Universal-Sci

Prebiotics (which are different from probiotics) are compounds that can be found in many different types of common food like oatmeal, garlic, asparagus, and apples. As mentioned, they stimulate the growth or activity of useful microorganisms such as fungi and bacteria. Research suggests that prebiotics may have not only an effect on the gut but also the brain and behavior.

Professor Monika Flesher, a senior author of the study, explained that their research shows that by supporting and maintaining the beneficial bacteria in the gut, as well as the metabolites they produce, we may be able to strengthen our resistance against disturbances in our sleep-wake cycle. The goal of the study is to find a way to mitigate body clock issues for people that commonly encounter jet lags or other body-clock disruptions like erratic work schedules or lack of natural daytime light, something military personal like submariners may encounter.

How researchers discovered that prebiotics may help restore your sleep cycle

In an animal study, rats were fed either an ordinary diet or chow supplemented with galactooligosaccharides and polydextrose (two different prebiotics).

Subsequently, the night and day cycle of the critters was altered every week for a period of eight weeks, which is the equivalent of moving to a different time zone, 12 hours forward every week for a period of two months.

The rats that had prebiotics added to their diet were able to reset their sleep-wake cycles and core body temperature (both of which may be thrown off when internal clocks are off) much faster. In addition, they were also able to withstand changes in gut flora that frequently accompany stress.

According to Rob Thompson, one of the researchers, this study is one of the first that links the consumption of prebiotics to specific bacterial changes that do not only impact sleep but also the body's response to sleep cycle disruptions.

What foods contain prebiotics?

Clinical studies are currently held to ascertain if prebiotics have comparable benefits in people. The research may lead to the development of tailored prebiotic blends for those whose jobs or lifestyles cause a regular circadian disturbance.

In the meantime, could simply loading up on prebiotic-rich foods help keep your biological clock on track? Although possible, it is important to note that the rats were fed excessively high amounts of prebiotics, it is uncertain if lower amounts have similar benefits.

Nonetheless, if you would like to try adding some prebiotics to your diet, here are some foods that contain a large amount of prebiotic fiber according to research published in the Journal of Nutrition: Raw, dry chicory roots are the absolute champion when it comes to prebiotic fiber content by weight, containing over 60% prebiotic fiber content by weight. More common prebiotic-rich foods are raw, dry: garlic (17.5%), leek (11.7%), onion (8.6%), and asparagus (5%). An honorable mention goes to the banana containing 1% prebiotic fiber content by weight.

Image Credit: SewCream via Shutterstock / HDR tune by Universal-Sci

Image Credit: SewCream via Shutterstock / HDR tune by Universal-Sci

Finally, what about currently existing prebiotic dietary supplements?

According to Fleshner, you don't need to ingest a bunch of products with prebiotic in them if you are healthy and in balance. 

"But if you know you are going to come into a challenge, you could take a look at some of the prebiotics that are available. Just realize that they are not customized yet, so it might work for you but it won't work for your neighbor."

The researchers published their findings in the science journal Brain Behavior and Immunity listed below. If you are interested in more details, make sure to check it out.

Further reading: 

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