Prebiotics might be the answer to better sleep, stress relief

BOULDER, Colo. — One of the most crucial elements of your life should be occurring for six to eight hours a night. Despite how important sleep is, it does not come easy to us all. Over 70 million Americans struggle to get a good night of sleep. Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder conducted a study that reveals how specific fibers known as prebiotics can improve quality of sleep and resiliency to stress by having an impact on gut bacteria.

“The biggest takeaway here is that this type of fiber is not just there to bulk up the stool and pass through the digestive system,” says lead author Robert Thompson in a university release. “It is feeding the bugs that live in our gut and creating a symbiotic relationship with us that has powerful effects on our brain and behavior.”

Prebiotics can help people deal with stress

While many dieters may be familiar with probiotics, prebiotics are the indigestible dietary chemical substance. Although it cannot be digested, it is an aid for our gut health.

This study fed adolescent male rats either prebiotic-infused food or standard food. Their physiological states were then checked before and after the rats were put through stress. The rats on a prebiotic diet enjoyed a more restorative, non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep. After experiencing stress however, rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep went up. This is a key element in the recovery from trauma.

After eating a standard diet, body temperatures and gut health fluctuated more. There was a buffer for the rats who ate prebiotic-infused food.

“We know that this combination of dietary fibers helps promote stress robustness and good sleep and protects the gut microbiome from disruption. With this new study, we wanted to try to identify the signal,” senior author Monika Fleshner explains.

The wrong diet can impact your sleep

Researchers used mass spectrometry to analyze the rat fecal samples. This allowed them to measure the end product of metabolism (metabolites) or bioactive small molecules developed by bacteria during the breakdown of food.

Researchers discovered rats who ate prebiotic food, had a big difference of metabolites. After stress, the rats’ metabolome looked different. The naturally produced steroid allopregnanolone increased in rats who were on the standard food diet. This has the potential to disrupt sleep. For rats who had the prebiotic diet, these spikes were absent.

“Our results reveal novel signals that come from gut microbes that may modulate stress physiology and sleep,” Fleshner says.

Prebiotics do promote a healthier lifestyle, but researchers caution there isn’t a direct correlation between them and better sleep. While natural food store shelves host prebiotic supplements, it has not been proven safe for integration into drugs.

The study was published in Scientific Reports.

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