Do you have trouble sleeping? You may want to consider the link between sleep and gut health. There’s more to this topic than munching too many chips while binge-watching a favorite show and then tossing and turning all night.

Home to thousands of bacteria that make up the microbiome, the gut affects appetite, metabolism, weight management, and whether or not you can sleep soundly at night.

How does the gut impact sleep? What strategies can you use to enhance the gut-sleep connection? Teri Mosey, PhD, a holistic nutrition consultant with 25 years in the health and fitness industry, offers an introduction into this complex topic

Intro to the Gut Biome

The gut has its own brain, nervous system and ability to work independently of the neocortex (rational or thinking) brain. This gut-brain regulates immunity, coordinates neurotransmitter and hormone secretions, influences emotions, affects threshold sensitivity to pain, and supports decision-making and sleep patterns (Liu & Zhu 2018; Rosselot, Hong & Moore 2016).

When it comes to sleep deprivation, there’s a direct connection between gut and brain. If the microbiome is not nurtured properly through eating and lifestyle actions, the change in microbe composition can initiate sleeping problems.

See also: You Are How You Sleep: The Cost of Sleep Deprivation

Eat a Plant-Based Diet

Adopting eating habits that support the microbiome may help regulate and improve sleep patterns. Researchers are finding that eating a primarily plant-based diet helps to regulate blood sugar levels and stimulate production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin, thereby calming the nervous system and helping us get to sleep and stay asleep (Islam et al. 2015; Strasser, Gostner & Fuchs 2016).

Plants contain phytonutrients, health-supportive compounds that boost antioxidant capacity and strengthen immunity. Immunity is one of the main pathways in the link between sleep and gut health. Eating a plant-based diet also creates a nutrient profile that is higher in complex carbohydrates and fiber and lower in saturated fats. Research is demonstrating that this combination decreases the number of nighttime arousals and supports longer periods spent in the deep NREM sleep stage (St-Onge et al. 2016).

See also: The Benefits of Yoga Nidra: The Yoga of Sleep