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How Sleep Deprivation Alters Your Intestinal Flora
We all need our beauty rest. Otherwise, things get ugly. That’s not just the case for our looks and mood. Sleep deprivation also disrupts the life of your intestinal flora. Stomach bacteria and immune cells depend on us getting shut-eye. That way, they can actually get some work done. However, research shows these microbes also rely on the light for their own functioning.
It’s been common scientific knowledge that night-shift workers or time zone travelers are prone to obesity 1. This realization propelled a group of scientists to research how our body’s circadian rhythm may play a role in weight gain 2. Let’s take a closer look at what these researchers discovered when it comes to the gut biome, immune system, weight gain, and sleep cycles.
What is the Circadian Rhythm?
Before we discuss the implications sleep deprivation has on gut health, you should have a firm understanding of our circadian rhythm. Essentially, the circadian rhythm is our body’s built-in biological clock. It is regulated by the nut-sized pineal gland.
Our pineal gland is situated at a convergence point directly behind our two eyes. The pineal gland is the gatekeeper of our sleep hormone, melatonin. As light enters our eyes, its energy stimulates the pineal gland 3. Light stimulation ceases melatonin production, so we remain productive during daytime hours.
As the sun goes down, the amount of light entering our eyes decreases. Slowly, the pineal gland secretes melatonin. Throughout the night, the body produces more of this hormone so we can enter our various sleep cycles seamlessly.
Once the sun begins to rise, its rays will permeate through your window. This light will penetrate through the thin flap of skin that comprises our eyelids.
Just as slowly as the pineal gland secretes melatonin, it also weans off of it. That way, we don’t thrash awake. Instead, we rise peacefully and well-rested. This process is our circadian rhythm. Unfortunately for those with sleep deprivation, this process isn’t so smooth.
Why Do We Have Sleep Deprivation?
There are several factors big and small that may cause us to experience sleep deprivation. Let’s quickly touch upon each of these. That way, you can see how it all adds up to compromising our gut health.
Too Much Screen Time
As we mentioned, the pineal gland is regulated by light. Therefore, indoor lights, computer monitors, and television screens can all throw off our circadian rhythm. This sentiment is especially true for smart devices.
Smartphone screens are made of LED lights. LED lights have a natural blue tint. This blue tint is akin to that first break in the darkness you see in your room if you were to wake up around 4:00 AM. Therefore, LEDs in our light fixtures, tablets, and car headlights are playing tricks with our pineal gland.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains that fluoridating water has led to a decrease in dental problems 4. Yet, can we ignore the fact that sleep deprivation is on a steady rise that coincides with the timeline of these practices?Forbes looked at the rise of sleep deprivation in America, and noted,
“Americans aren’t spending enough time snoozing. In 2013 (the last year measured by Gallup), the average American slept 6.8 hours a night—with 40 percent banking less than six hours. The nation hasn’t always been this sleep-deprived: Back in 1910, people slept an average of nine hours per night 5.”– Forbes
While small doses of fluoride are deemed safe, we brush our teeth with fluoride, going as far as to scrub our porous tongue. We breathe fluoride in the air. Then, we drink this compound in our water.
Sadly, studies show that fluoride causes our pineal gland to calcify, thus making it difficult for it to release melatonin.
One analysis stated,
“F− readily accumulates in the human pineal gland. In her study, intrapineal calcifications in the brains of persons aged about 80 contained on average 9,000 mg F−/kg, and the average concentration in the pineal gland was 297 ± 257 (14–875) mg F−/kg wm, so about 1,485 ± 1,285 mg F−/kg dm. Compared with humans, the pineal gland of the adult goosander had an almost 40 % lower concentration 6.”–Environ Geochem Health.
Additional evidence is starting to show that fluoride also draws heavy metals from water pipes 7. Therefore, fluoride can help us absorb more harmful chemicals that may alter our gut biome and cause sleep deprivation.
Sleep deprivation and stress go hand-in-hand. Not only do you lay in bed thinking about all things stressing you out, but there’s a hormonal shift going on, as well.
When we are under stress, our body secretes the hormone, cortisol. Unfortunately, many of us live with chronic stress. It’s like turning on the cortisol sink and walking away.
Imagine putting a one-liter bottle under the spout. It will only hold one liter of liquid. Now, let’s exchange the word “water” for “hormones.” We need many hormones to function, not just cortisol. So, when stress takes over, it makes less room in the bottle for other hormones, such as melatonin.
Sleep Disorder or Chronic Illness?
Up to 70 million people suffer from a sleep disorder 8. There are 90 different sleep disorders out there, so we aren’t going too far into detail. If you believe you have a sleep disorder or chronic illness, please contact a physician.
Sleep Deprivation and Gut Health
We are a complex system. So many different networks in our body have an impact on one another. The more we research the gut biome, the more intertwined each facet gets. The study we noted at the beginning of this article has really blown this realization off its hinges 2.
Scientists found that our circadian rhythm influences immune cells that play a critical role in our gut health. It turns out that our cells have a clock gene encoded in them. Like us, they are regulated by light.
Science suggests all living beings use light as a milestone for their day-to-day tasks. That notion includes our cells. Our body as a whole sees light, and the absence of it, as moments for every organism to get on the same page.
Researchers hypothesize humans have evolved to rely on light for environmental protection. Our cells have learned to go along with us for the ride since our physical body kind of dictates the whole show. When the light goes down, the body knows it’s time to rest. Therefore, certain systems will slow activity, while others use this time to make crucial hormones.
Sleep Deprivation and Immune System
As researchers dug down the rabbit hole, they found a crucial link between sleep deprivation and poor gut health. Many immune cells in the GI tract were unphased by shifts in circadian rhythm. As you can imagine, it’s pretty dark in there anyway. However, one set of immune cells seemed to have an adverse reaction to changes in our circadian rhythm and light intake.
Type 3 innate lymphoid cells (ILC3s) are immune cells that are predominant in our gastrointestinal tract. They are known to serve many important functions in helping us achieve optimal wellness.
Primary functions of ILC3s include:
- Fighting off Infections
- Repairing Gut Lining
- Absorbing Fat and Protein
Furthermore, ILC3s interact with neuronal cells. Therefore, distress experienced by the mind, such as sleep deprivation, may cause these immune system cells to trigger inflammation. Therefore, scientists theorize that ILC3s play a significant role in the gut-brain-axis.
Circadian Rhythm and ILC3s
ILC3s are regulated by light. During daytime hours, the ILC3s are on higher alert. That’s because this is the time of the day when we eat. These immune cells work to metabolize fats. That way, they can burn them off to provide us energy during the working hours.
However, ILC3s pull double duty. After all, they are immune cells. So, they must move back to the gut when we are done eating. That way, these cells can fight off any harmful bacteria we may have ingested from our food.
As we mentioned earlier, the gut can be quite dark. That’s why ILC3s are equipped with “postcode receptors 9.” These cells express these receptors so they can guide them to an area of the gut where they can localize.
When the circadian rhythm of a person shifts, it throws off this line of communication. ILC3s miss the cue to express the gene. Consequently, these cells have trouble localizing. They don’t know where to go! Therefore, sleep deprivation can suppress a pivotal cell within our immune system.
Want to get your gut health in check? Get some sleep. Improve the odds by getting your gut tested. Learn about your gut wellness with Ombre to naturally support your sleep cycles.
- 1 Sun, M., Feng, W., Wang, F., Zhang, L., Wu, Z., Li, Z., … Tse, L. A. (2018). Night shift work exposure profile and obesity: Baseline results from a Chinese night shift worker cohort. PloS one, 13(5), e0196989. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0196989.
- 2 “Disruption of Circadian Cycle Impacts Immune Cell Clock Genes, Gut Health.” Clinical OMICs – Molecular Diagnostics in Personalized Medicine, 23 Sept. 2019, www.clinicalomics.com/topics/molecular-dx-topic/microbiome/disruption-of-circadian-cycle-impacts-immune-cell-clock-genes-gut-health/.
- 3 Brown G. M. (1994). Light, melatonin and the sleep-wake cycle. Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience : JPN, 19(5), 345–353.
- 4 Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Health Claim Notification Fluoridated Water and Reduced Dental Caries.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/health-claim-notification-fluoridated-water-and-reduced-risk-dental-caries.
- 5 Howe, Neil. “America The Sleep-Deprived.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 18 Aug. 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/neilhowe/2017/08/18/america-the-sleep-deprived/#51ca9a931a38.
- 6 Kalisinska, E., Bosiacka-Baranowska, I., Lanocha, N., Kosik-Bogacka, D., Krolaczyk, K., Wilk, A., … Chlubek, D. (2014). Fluoride concentrations in the pineal gland, brain and bone of goosander (Mergus merganser) and its prey in Odra River estuary in Poland. Environmental geochemistry and health, 36(6), 1063–1077. doi:10.1007/s10653-014-9615-6.
- 7 Mullenix P. J. (2014). A new perspective on metals and other contaminants in fluoridation chemicals. International journal of occupational and environmental health, 20(2), 157–166. doi:10.1179/2049396714Y.0000000062.
- 8 “Sleep Studies: Tests & Results.” National Sleep Foundation, www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/sleep-studies.
- 9 Godinho-Silva, Cristina, et al. “Light-Entrained and Brain-Tuned Circadian Circuits Regulate ILC3s and Gut Homeostasis.” Nature, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31534216.