The Truth About Sleep & Prebiotics
As a Nutritional Therapist one of the things I am asked about a lot by my clients is how to improve their quality and quantity of sleep. For this reason, I watched with great interest the program presented by Dr Michael Mosely on the BBC – ‘The Truth About Sleep’.
INSOMNIA IS A GROWING ISSUE:
I was not surprised by the revelation that over the last 60 years the amount of sleep we are getting as a nation has decreased by an average of 1-2 hours, with very few adults getting the suggested 7-8 hours a night. I have suffered myself from insomnia and have spoken to enough of my clients to be aware how many people may be affected by poor sleep patterns.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SLEEP:
During the program, they discussed the importance of sleep and how not getting enough can have a very detrimental effect on our health, with insomnia being linked to obesity, diabetes and even cancer. They also had a look at the efficacy of different ways to support a healthy sleep pattern and came up with 3 main suggestions:
- Take a warm bath before bed – This may seem like an old wives’ tale, but they explained that there was actually some science behind it. Apparently, when we are in a bath our body temperature increases. When we get out of the bath and walk into the cooler air, this causes a drop in body temperature, which apparently can help us get off to sleep more effectively!
- Try Mindful Breathing – using mindful breathing techniques, such as breathing in for a count of 4 and then breathing out for a count of 8, has been found to be very useful when struggling to get off to sleep. This type of breathing technique is said to focus the mind, calm the body and increase relaxation.
- Try taking a prebiotic fibre supplement before going to bed. This one is slightly harder to explain and understand, so the aim of the rest of this blog post is hopefully to help people gain a greater understanding of what exactly a pre-biotic is and why it may be helpful with sleep.
WHAT IS A PREBIOTIC?
We are all now aware that there are good bacteria that live inside us, these are often referred to as probiotics. A prebiotic, is a substance that feeds those good bacteria and encourages them to grow. When the good bacteria in the gut, feed on these prebiotics, they produce molecules including short chain fatty acids. It is these substances which are said to have a positive effect on the brain and potentially on sleep. As an additional benefit of taking a prebiotic, the good bacteria will in turn increase in number, which will also potentially have a positive effect on our health.
CAN A PREBIOTIC HELP SLEEP?
The idea of using prebiotics to help sleep came from a study done at the University of Colorado, which fed rats a diet rich in prebiotic fibres. The researchers noted that after 4 weeks the rats on the prebiotics had also seen an increase in beneficial bacteria in their gut. These rats were also sleeping better than the rats who were not taking the prebiotic supplement. It was this study which led Dr Michael Mosely to experiment on himself in the program ‘The Truth About Sleep’.
He decided to see if he too could experience an improvement in sleep quality and quantity by taking a prebiotic supplement each night before bed. His experience, reported on the program, was that it did indeed make a difference.
WHAT NEXT? AND WHAT ARE THE BEST PREBIOTICS?
No one knows yet whether prebiotics will help everyone improve their sleep, however as a Nutritional Therapist, it is something I may suggest to some of my clients who are struggling with sleep. After all, the initial results are promising and we know that if prebiotics feed our friendly bacteria, this could have other health benefits as well.
So where do we get these prebiotics from? Well, there are a number of options, but possibly one of the best ways is to take an Inulin Supplement. Inulin first came to public attention when it was mentioned by Angela Rippon in a program called ‘How to Stay Young’. It is a starchy fibre found in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, including wheat, onions, bananas, leeks, artichokes, chicory and asparagus. It is 100% natural, acts as a prebiotic and can be purchase as a powder which could easily be added to foods and drinks.