Sweet Dreams: How Probiotics Improve Your Sleep and Build Your Bones
We’re living in an age where sleep deprivation is considered normal. Many people are chronically short on sleep and exhausted during the day. Though you probably know skipping screen time before bed will allow your brain to “power down,” you may never have thought a probiotic could help you get a better night’s sleep.
If you don’t already take probiotics, the beneficial bacteria that keep your digestive system in good working order — and build your immunity and your bones –consider adding a probiotic supplement. As we head towards winter and set our clocks back, we also throw our biological clocks out of rhythm.
Instead of asking your doctor for a sleeping pill, which will create unpleasant and unhealthy side effects, choose probiotics, which is a safe, natural way to promote restorative sleep. Probiotics can help to relieve insomnia and get your sleep cycle back on track.
The best news of all: by enabling you to get more sleep probiotics help to build bone, because bone remodeling takes place during sleep. And by reducing the biomarkers for oxidative stress, probiotics boost immunity and aid in the production of B vitamins, two additional keys to strong bones.
Today we’re going to explore how probiotics influence crucial neurotransmitters and hormones that positively affect sleep and bone health: tryptophan, melatonin, serotonin, GABA, and cortisol.
Probiotics Prevent Unscheduled Naps
Nobody wants to be asleep at the wheel, figuratively speaking, during daily life — especially not while at work. Yet many people are just so tired, due to stress, worry, health issues, or a lack of quality sleep.
However, it’s easier to get a good night’s sleep than you might think: the same beneficial microbes that maintain healthy intestinal flora also play a leading role in obtaining superior sleep.
Among many other functions, probiotics produce and regulate a number of neurotransmitters and hormones that affect our sleep. Though this crucial role probiotics play is seldom mentioned, it’s backed by scientific research. In fact, the gut is often referred to as “the second brain.”1
For instance, did you know your gut, and not your brain, determines whether you’re happy? The neurotransmitter serotonin, a mood stabilizer, is primarily produced and regulated by gut bacteria. Therefore, keeping your gut healthy with probiotics is an important way to improve your mood.
The gut is often called “the second brain,” because the health of the gut has a direct effect on the health of the brain — and on how well we sleep. Probiotics, the beneficial bacteria that live in our intestines, affect the major neurotransmitters and hormones that influence sleep: tryptophan, melatonin, serotonin, GABA, and cortisol.
Regain Your Nocturnal Rhythm
Like musical instruments, our bodies need to be finely tuned for optimum functioning. This fine-tuning happens when we maintain balanced biological rhythms. Let’s examine how the following compounds — tryptophan, melatonin, serotonin, GABA, and cortisol — affects sleep.
Sound sleep begins with the proper production and distribution of tryptophan, an amino acid necessary to synthesize serotonin.2
Tryptophan is also essential for your pineal gland to produce melatonin. The more melatonin circulating through your body, the sleepier you will feel.
Probiotics can increase tryptophan levels, as can
You can add almonds as an afternoon snack, perhaps in a nut mix that includes magnesium-rich cashews for stress relief, to help maintain elevated tryptophan levels.
Good sleep hygiene begins with the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor for serotonin and melatonin. Probiotics, coupled with almonds, are two great ways to add tryptophan to your daily sleep- and bone-building routine.
Science has proven that our gastrointestinal (GI) tract produces more than 90 percent of the body’s serotonin — and our gut microbes control how much is produced. So our mood and sleep quality and quantity depend on a healthy gut, which in turn depends on beneficial bacteria.3
However, while we need the proper amount of serotonin in our system to regulate mood, an excessive amount will prevent bone formation and increase fracture risk.
This is why SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are dangerous: by preventing the uptake of serotonin, they keep this neurotransmitter circulating in the body longer than it would without the drug.
Serotonin is the neurotransmitter responsible for a relaxed mind and sound sleep. Drugs such as SSRIs allow too much serotonin to remain in circulation, which can lead to increased fracture risk. Probiotics keep serotonin in balance.
Melatonin is the hormone that helps us fall asleep, and also helps to build bone. Shifting our circadian rhythms, which occurs twice each year when we go on and off Daylight Saving Time, throws our biological clocks out of whack. This wreaks havoc with melatonin production.4
As noted, probiotics boost tryptophan, which converts to the neurotransmitter serotonin. The latter is further metabolized into the hormone melatonin. Daily probiotic supplementation will help to maintain healthy levels of melatonin.
For proper sleep, melatonin levels should be low during the day and high at night. If you’re tired and sleepy during the day, your melatonin levels are reversed due to sleep deprivation.5
Here are some steps to achieve a more restful sleep naturally, which will increase your body’s ability to manufacture and utilize melatonin:
- Go out in the sun. Most of us work indoors under artificial light and rarely see the natural light of day. Since sunlight inhibits melatonin production, it’s important to get some sun exposure to give your pineal gland (which produces melatonin) a rest, enabling it to work effectively at night when you’re ready for deep sleep.
- Step away from the screens. Turn off your devices at least one hour before bedtime to allow your brain to power down as well.
- Sleep in a darkened room. Light disrupts melatonin production.
- Take your daily probiotic. A multi-strain formula will help produce and regulate sleep-inducing hormones and neurotransmitters.
Modern life disrupts melatonin production. Spending time outdoors during the day, away from screens and artificial light will help regulate melatonin production. Taking a probiotic will also keep melatonin levels high at night, for deep sleep and strong bones.
GABA is an acronym for gamma-aminobutyric acid, a neurotransmitter responsible for reducing stress by suppressing nerve activity. Savers know that stress is detrimental to bones and overall health.
Probiotics affect our mood, stress levels, and digestion, mediated by the modulatory action of the vagus nerve, (vagus actually means, “to wander”).
When you ingest probiotics, they are connected via the vagus nerve to the rest of your nervous system. The gut connects to your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for keeping your heart rate normal and your muscles relaxed, among many other functions. A healthy gut means a calmer nervous system, better sleep, and stronger bones.6
GABA is responsible for keeping you calm. It’s modulated by the vagus nerve, a direct conduit between the gut and brain. Probiotics help create a healthier gut, which translates into a calmer nervous system, leading to better sleep and stronger bones.
The neurotransmitters and hormones we’ve discussed so far — tryptophan, serotonin, melatonin, and GABA — all have a positive effect on your body when kept in balance. Cortisol, however, is known as the fight-or-flight hormone that, when switched on over the long-term harms your bones and your body. A study on medical students showed that those taking probiotics for only two weeks did not have a salivary cortisol increase, while those who took a placebo did.7.
Cortisol is a steroid naturally produced by the body in response to stress. When stress becomes chronic, cortisol, which is acidifying, damages your bones. There are a number of clues that will alert you if your cortisol levels are too high, and you can read about this fascinating topic in this previous article:
Supplementing with probiotics is an effective way to lower cortisol levels.
Cortisol is a natural steroid our bodies produce when under stress. When cortisol levels remain chronically elevated, however, its acidifying effect deteriorates bones. Studies have shown that probiotics help to lower cortisol levels and maintain an acid/alkaline balance.
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1 Alper Evrensel et al., “The Gut-Brain Axis: The Missing Link in Depression”, Clin Psychopharmacol Neurosci. 2015 Dec; 13(3): 239–244. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4662178
2 Desbonnet, L., Garrett, L., Clarke, G., Bienenstock, J., & Dinan, T. G. (2008). “The probiotic Bifidobacteria infantis: An assessment of potential antidepressant properties in the rat”. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 43(2), 164-174. Web.https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022395608000745?via%3Dihub
3 Yano, JM et al., “Indigenous Bacteria from the Gut Microbiota Regulate Host Serotonin Biosynthesis”. Cell. 2015 Apr 9;161(2):264-76.Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25860609
4 Nakamaru-Ogiso, E., Miyamoto, H., Hamada, K., Tsukada, K., & Takai, K. (2012). “Novel biochemical manipulation of brain serotonin reveals a role of serotonin in the circadian rhythm of sleep-wake cycles”. European Journal of Neuroscience, 35(11), 1762–1770. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22625848
5 Rafael J. Salin-Pascual et al., “The Effect of Total Sleep Deprivation on Plasma Melatonin and Cortisol in Healthy Human Volunteers,” Sleep 1988, 11(4):362-369. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3206055
6 Bravo JA, et al. “Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve.” Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Sep 20;108(38):16050-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1102999108. Epub 2011 Aug 29. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21876150
7 Kato-Kataoka, A., Nishida, K., Takada, M., Suda, K., Kawai, M., Shimizu, K., Rokutan, K. (2016). “Fermented milk containing Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota prevents the onset of physical symptoms in medical students under academic examination stress.” Beneficial Microbes, 7(2), 153-156. Web. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26689231