Sleep Loss Alters Gut Microbes
By: Emad Yahya
Despite the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommending at least 7 hours of sleep a day for adults aged 18-60, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this year has revealed that more than a third of American adults are not reaching this standard. This can prove a problem for many Americans down the road as lack of sleep has been tied to increased chances of numerous health problems such as type 2 diabetes. In fact, just 2 days of sleep loss may prompt changes within micro-organisms located in the gut leading to poor metabolic health in sleep-deprived individuals. As a guy who struggles with maintaining a regular sleeping schedule, I’ve experienced mornings where my stomach feels as if it was twisted into a knot after a lackluster night of sleep making it harder for me to get out of bed and perform my normal, daily activities. If I, like many Americans, continue to follow this trend, we would be putting ourselves at an increased risk for several health issues such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and obesity.
To investigate the impact of sleep on the composition of micro-organisms in the human gut as well as any metabolic changes related to it, Christian Benedict of the Department of Neuroscience at Uppsala University in Sweden analyzed 9 healthy male subjects under two conditions: 1 day with normal sleep (8 hours) and 2 days with restricted sleep (4 hours). While the short duration and small sample size of the experiment found no link between the diversity of the gut microbiota associated with restricted sleep, Benedict observed gut flora changes similar to changes between over-weight and normal weigh individuals (Benedict, 2016). In addition, the researchers found that sleep deprived individuals were more insulin resistant. This is similar to what happens to people with diabetes.
Even though the sample size and duration of the study done may not be the most convincing statistic out there, the results obtained are still fascinating. After only two days of restricted sleep, the healthy participants began to show changes within the gut similarly to those dealing with obesity. In addition, restricted sleep caused a decrease in insulin sensitivity of 20 percent. Now even though the results may have been skewed due to only healthy male subjects being tested, the fact that these subjects experienced changes like that of people with health issues such as obesity and diabetes after only two days of restricted is astonishing by itself. When you consider the millions of Americans who are getting only a few hours of sleep a day it is interesting to speculate if poor sleep hygiene may be contributing to obesity and maybe even diabetes. Further research is needed.
Benedict, Christian, et al. “Gut microbiota and glucometabolic alterations in response to recurrent partial sleep deprivation in normal-weight young individuals.” Molecular Metabolism (2016).