Losing sleep for just two nights can change the gut microbiome — the collection of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms in the digestive tract — in ways that are associated with poor metabolic health and obesity, according to a small new study from Sweden.
Current guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation recommend that adults 18–64 get 7–9 hours of sleep each night and that adults 65 and older get 7–8 hours of sleep each night. However, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that more than a third of Americans are not getting 7 hours of sleep a night on a regular basis. Insufficient sleep has been linked to a variety of health conditions, including increases in blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, and the stress hormone cortisol, as well as obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
The gut microbiome appears to play a role in various metabolic conditions, including obesity and Type 2 diabetes. To determine whether sleep loss affects the gut microbiome, researchers from Uppsala University looked at the impact of two nights of normal sleep (approximately 8 hours) compared to two consecutive nights of short slight (roughly 4 hours per night) in nine healthy, normal-weight men. The timing and composition of meals were kept consistent during the study to reduce any effects they might have on the microbiome.
Analyzing stool samples from the men after each night of sleep, the researchers found that, while the diversity of gut bacteria was not changed by restricted sleep, the ratios of certain groups of bacteria were significantly altered in ways that have been associated with obesity.
“We did…observe microbiota changes that parallel some of the microbiota changes observed when, for instance, obese subjects have been compared with normal-weight subjects in other studies, such as an increased ratio of Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes,” the researchers noted. “We also found that participants were over 20% less sensitive to the effects of the hormone insulin following sleep loss…. This decreased insulin sensitivity was, however, unrelated to alterations in gut microbiota following sleep loss.”
Limitations of the study include its small sample size of only healthy young men. The researchers state that additional studies will be required to determine if the results are the same over the long term and in women and people who are older or have chronic health conditions.
For more information, see the Uppsala University press release “Sleep Loss Tied to Changes of the Gut Microbiota in Humans” or the study’s abstract in the journal Molecular Metabolism. And for expert tips that can help you catch some Zs, read “Getting the Sleep You Need,” by nurse David Spero.
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