Home Gut Lifestyle What the Modern Lifestyle is Doing to Your Gut – And How to Fix It

What the Modern Lifestyle is Doing to Your Gut – And How to Fix It

by previlli

Part II: Changes in When We Sleep and Eat

For most of human history, people were active when it was light, slept when it was dark, and ate when food was available. Now electric light makes it possible to be awake any time of the night or day, blue light from our devices disrupts our sleep cycle, and food is rarely more than a few steps away. To put it simply, the daily rhythms of waking and sleeping, eating and fasting, are vastly different from what they once were. These changes have wide-ranging health effects, including on our gut architecture and gut health.

Meet Your Circadian Rhythm

Circadian rhythm refers to a natural 24-hour cycle, or body clock, that runs in all living things — animals, plants, fungi, and bacteria. Our circadian rhythm determines when we eat and when we sleep. This cycle is internally generated, but it also responds to external cues such as light and temperature.1 That’s why spending time in a dark room or taking a bath can make us feel sleepy.
There are various factors that can disrupt our circadian rhythm, such as working the night shift, traveling across time zones, pregnancy, menopause, and certain medications or medical conditions (such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases).2 All of those are difficult to control. But we do a pretty good job of disrupting our circadian rhythms by refusing to stick to a consistent schedule, say for example, going to bed at 11pm during the week but staying up until 1am on the weekends.

When We Sleep Has Changed

We don’t sleep enough. Nearly a third of Americans sleep less than six hours a night, while the recommended amount is seven to nine hours.3 The reasons range from busy schedules, to stress, to the blue light emitted by our electronic devices. 
When you don’t get enough sleep, some effects are immediate and easily recognizable. You feel tired and cranky, and it’s hard to concentrate. But there are other more far-reaching consequences of long-term sleep deprivation. Your immunity dips, your blood pressure rises, you may gain weight, and your risk of heart disease and diabetes increase.4
You also feel the effects of insufficient sleep in your gut. It turns out when you’re not functioning at your best, neither are your gut bacteria. Circadian disruption is linked to dysbiosis — an imbalance of good to bad bacteria — and to conditions related to gut health such as obesity, metabolic dysregulation, and bowel trouble.5
To explore how these associations work, scientists tested whether changing mice’s sleep patterns, along with their diet, could affect their gut bacteria.6 Once a week, they reversed the light/dark cycle in the mice’s environment to mimic changing work shifts. Half the mice were fed standard mouse chow, while the other half feasted on mouse junk food. 
 The mice subjected to both adverse conditions — sleep disruption and an unhealthy diet — experienced negative changes to their gut bacteria. This echoed the results of a previous study, which found that mice whose sleep was disrupted and who were also given alcohol experienced increased gut permeability. This condition allows bacteria to escape the safe haven of the gut and travel through the body, which can lead to all sorts of problems.7
The results of these experiments show the importance of both good sleep and sound eating habits and how they are intertwined. Of course, it’s ideal to maintain regular sleep habits at all times. However, if your sleep schedule is going to be temporarily disturbed due to work or travel, it’s more important than ever to make sure you’re consuming gut-friendly foods (think fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) and to avoid excessive alcohol consumption to protect your gut bacteria and your gut structure.

Sleep and Gut Connection

Another study of healthy older adults found that participants who were getting better sleep performed better on cognitive tests. This is unsurprising, but the well-rested seniors also had differences in their gut microbiota. Specifically, they had more bacteria from the phyla Verrucomicrobia and Lentisphaerae. Researchers speculated the composition of their gut bacteria might be influencing their cognitive flexibility.8  
While the amount of sleep you get may affect the health of your gut bacteria, the reverse is also true — your gut bacteria can influence how well you sleep. That’s because your microbiota (your own personal collection of microbes) regulates the production of hormones, including melatonin, which helps prepare your body for sleep.9 If your gut bacteria are out of kilter, you may not produce enough of this sleep-inducing chemical. To make matters worse, insufficient melatonin production is associated with increased gut permeability.10

Because healthy sleep patterns and gut health are so intertwined, it’s easy for a disruption in either to cause a downward spiral in both. To make sure you and your gut bacteria are well rested, try following these tips:

Increase your exposure to bright light during the day, either sunlight or artificial light (like that from a SAD lamp). Aim for at least 20-30 minutes. This will help keep your circadian rhythm in sync, so your body knows when it’s day and when it’s night.

Reduce your exposure to blue light from computers, smart phones, televisions, and other electronic devices in the evening. This kind of light can signal your body to stay awake.

Avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening, as this stimulant can override your natural sleep signals. Also, limit late-night snacks. Eating is another signal to your body that it’s not time to sleep.

Minimize noise and light in your bedroom, with blackout shades, a sleep mask, and ear plugs if necessary, and keep your room at a comfortable temperature. Cooler temps (around 65 degrees) tend to induce more restful sleep.[11]

You may not be able to control whether night shifts, travel, or health conditions kick you out of your regular sleep pattern, but you can decide not to stay up late and then sleep in every weekend. Choosing the time you’ll wake up every day and sticking to it helps you fall asleep and wake up more easily.[12]

Not only does Previlli™ support a healthy composition of gut bacteria and build healthy gut architecture, it also includes L-theanine, a relaxing amino acid that supports healthy sleep.*

When We Eat Has Changed Too

Eating is a necessary and pleasurable activity, but often we eat for reasons other than our bodies’ hunger cues. Sometimes we eat to escape difficult emotions. Just ask anyone who’s downed an entire carton of Ben and Jerry’s while nursing a heartbreak. Sometimes we eat out of boredom or habit. For instance, if you always get popcorn when you go to the movies, you may order it automatically without stopping to ask yourself if you’re really hungry for it. 
In fact, scientists did an experiment in which they asked people if they usually ate popcorn at the movies. They then gave everyone free popcorn, either fresh or stale, while they watched a film. People who didn’t usually eat the stuff ate the popcorn if it was fresh, but eschewed the stale kernels. However, folks who were in the habit of eating popcorn while they watched a movie ate it whether it was fresh or stale.13 That’s a demonstration of how divorced we can get from our bodies’ feedback.
Habitually overriding your body’s signals can cause you to overeat at any given meal. It can also make you eat too often, grazing your way through the day. That’s a problem, because continual eating never gives your gut a chance to rest. Imagine what would happen to your car if you never stopped driving it; it would break down a lot faster. Another reason why spacing your meals is a healthier choice is that your gut bacteria use your circadian clock to determine what time of day you absorb the most calories and nutrients from the food you eat.14 Eating all day long can throw that mechanism out of whack. 
The idea that people need some extended periods of not eating is what’s behind intermittent fasting (IF). IF limits eating to certain hours of the day, say 9am-8pm or 10am-4pm. The theory is if your insulin level falls low enough — which happens when you go for long periods of time without eating — you will begin to burn fat for fuel.15,16 Human studies have shown IF (with a six to eleven-hour eating window in different studies) may help lower blood sugar, blood pressure, and body weight.17,18
Animal studies provide some insight into what kind of changes IF causes in gut architecture. Fruit flies who were only allowed access to food at certain times not only lived longer, their gut barrier function was improved.19 A mouse study found IF caused beneficial changes to the animals’ gut structure, such as more mucin (protective mucus), more goblet cells (which excrete mucin), and longer villi (tiny, finger-like projections in the intestine wall that help the body absorb nutrients from the gut).20
Fasting also positively affected the gut bacteria of lab animals. Mice fed on a time-restricted schedule developed healthier, more diverse microbial communities. Bonus: they gained less weight, even when fed a fattening diet.21,22 Similarly, obese rats who fasted for three days out of every two weeks lost weight, lowered their blood cholesterol, and had healthier populations of gut bacteria.23

If you’re guilty of mindless eating — and honestly, we all eat this way sometimes — try to break out of the habit by eating more mindfully.

Eat slowly and pay attention to the physical act of eating. This may help you savor your food and eat less of i

Pay attention to your body’s cues and only eat when you’re hungry. 

Take a page from the Japanese practice of hara hachi bu (which translates to “eat until you are eight parts full”) and stop eating before you feel full. Your body takes a little time to register fullness.

Set up a window of time for eating, or as a first step, limit between-meal snacks and late-night trips to the refrigerator.

Eating while watching television or scrolling through Facebook takes your attention away from your body’s signals, making it easier to ignore them. Put away the devices, and really enjoy your food.

Taken regularly, Previlli™ can aid mindful eating. As your gut structure improves, you’ll experience a heightened sensitivity to feeling full, making it less likely you’ll overeat.

Key Take-Aways

  • We don’t eat and sleep in harmony with our circadian clocks. We don’t sleep enough, and we eat too continuously throughout the day.
  • Eating and sleeping irregularities can lead to disruptions in gut bacteria and negatively affect gut architecture, including increasing gut permeability. 
  • Your gut bacteria can also influence how well you sleep, since they regulate the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.
  • There are steps you can take to make sure you and your gut bacteria are well-rested, including: increasing your exposure to bright light during the day, powering down electronics at least an hour before bedtime, skipping coffee and late-night snacks, making your bedroom snooze-worthy, and going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.
  • Sometimes we eat for reasons other than hunger, such as to escape difficult emotions or out of habit. 
  • Habitually overriding your body’s signals can cause you to overeat, either by eating past your fullness level or by grazing mindlessly throughout the day.
  • Some tips for mindful eating include: eating slowly and paying attention to your food, listening to your body’s hunger and satiation cues, stopping eating when you’re 80 percent full, practicing intermittent fasting, and putting away screens while eating. 


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