Medical herbalist Nicola Parker explains how gut health can affect your sleep.

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One reason people are plagued by sleep disturbances is that their sleep isn’t deep enough, causing them to wake in the small hours of the morning.

Waking up on a cool morning last week, I pulled my legs up, wrapped the blankets tighter around me and shivered. I keep the window open at night, to let fresh air circulate and the cool Autumn air had crept into bed with me. I pulled the summer duvet over my head, making a mental note to swap it out for its warmer counter part. Under the blankets, I grumbled and not just because the air outside it felt cold.

I bounce in and out of good sleep. I can go for months without a problem until something rocks my boat and suddenly, I’m awake at all hours.

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I deal with sleep a lot at work, so I’m well-versed on good sleep hygiene. Staying away from screens during the evening, avoiding caffeine late in the day, breathing exercises and meditation as I lay my head on the pillow. All these things help me avoid tossing and turning all night, but just like most people, I’m prone to picking up bad habits.


The frustration arises when our sleep hygiene is spot on. We’re doing all the right things but something else, something unknown, is preventing us from sleeping soundly through the night.

One reason people are plagued by sleep disturbances is that their sleep isn’t deep enough, causing them to wake in the small hours of the morning. This can be related to low levels of the hormones that help us get into the deeper stages of sleep.

If we are not sleeping deeply enough, small noises can wake us regularly. Cats outside, windy night’s, a snoring spouse, these are all sounds that we would be oblivious to if we were hard and fast asleep. This type of disturbed sleep will leave us groggy, even if we’re able to get back to sleep again quickly because we’re missing out on that deeper, quality rest.

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Serotonin is usually known as the hormone that keeps us feeling happy and motivated throughout the day, but it is also required for proper regulation of melatonin, which is our sleep hormone.

Medical herbalist Nicola ParkerMedical herbalist Nicola Parker
Medical herbalist Nicola Parker

Serotonin is made in the gut, so poor gut health can actually cause sleep and mood disturbances. This is why the gut is referred to as ‘the second brain’. The more we learn about the gut and the multitude of bacteria that live there, the more we realise how important it is to our overall health.

The bacteria that keep this second brain ticking can be knocked out of balance by stress, medication (especially antibiotics), poor diet and an unhealthy digestive system. If you have an excellent bedtime routine but you’re still not getting the rest you need, the hidden cause could be in your gut.

Do note that you don’t need to have obvious gut problems for your gut health to affect your sleep. I certainly don’t notice any changes to my health other than the grumpy feeling of needing to get out of bed feeling unrefreshed and groggy after a bad night. To rectify the problem, I usually start taking a probiotic, as probiotics promote healthy gut bacteria and the subtle changes in my sleep and mood gradually improve over a period of a few months.

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Except, I’m too impatient to wait that long. Alongside the probiotic, I recommend a remedy called L-5HTP which is a key ingredient used in the gut to make serotonin. By handing this on a plate to the little hormone factory inside me, I’m able to bypass the long wait and kickstart the process of getting a good night’s rest. In turn, a good night’s sleep helps to improve my overall stress levels, which speeds up how quickly my body is able to do the job on its own.

It’s easy to think that digestion is just related to how we feel in our stomach, but in truth it affects every aspect of our health. Good gut bacteria is key to a proper night’s sleep and probiotics alongside remedies like L-5HTP provide a targeted approach to sleeplessness, without the need for addictive sedatives that can make us drowsy.

For more information or to make an appointment with Nicola, contact her clinic on 01524 413733.

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