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Sleep and Gut Health

By Jodi Cohen

Woman lying on her back on a white bed with hair spread out, enjoying a moment of relaxation.

Sleep is critical for recovery and the healthy function of every cell in your body, including the health your gut and balance of healthy gut microbes.

Restful sleep and your body’s circadian rhythms influence your body’s “master clock”, or 24-hour biological rhythm, that works much like an orchestra conductor, striking up one section of the body’s orchestra as another quiets down to help maintain a healthy balance throughout the day.

Natural light and sleep cycles help your master clock stay in sync with the 24-hour day and help control the ebb and flow of your body’s hormones, cell grow and digestion.  Certain functions are meant to work better during certain hours of the day, which is one reason I recommend aligning application of essential oil remedies with your body’s natural rhythms.

Your digestive cycle and the healthy balance of your gut microbiome are significantly impacted by your circadian rhythms and restful sleep. Research indicates that when sleep and circadian rhythms are disrupted, the health and diversity of your microbiome suffers.

Fragmented sleep, or restless, unrefreshing sleep that’s characterized by many frequent awakenings throughout the night which prevents you from spending sufficient time in the most restorative stages of deep sleep and REM sleep, has also been found to affect the microbiome and metabolic health.


How Sleep Supports Gut Health

During the night, your gut produces 90 minute slow wave muscle contractions which are followed by short burst of rapid movement. Poor sleep cycles disrupt this digestive function and the healing process within the gut.

Researchers have observed the rhythmic expression of ‘clock genes’ that appear to affect the gut microbiome on a daily time scale. Disruption of your circadian clock correlates with changes in gut bacteria.  In particular, researchers found that a species of human gut bacteria, Enterobacter aerogenes, has its own circadian rhythm and responds to fluctuations in the hormone melatonin. 

For example, a 2016 study correlated short-term sleep loss with negative changes in gut microbiome, including a significant decrease in beneficial bacteria such as increases in micro-organisms that are linked to obesity and insulin sensitivity.


Low Melatonin Can Impact Gut Health

The sleep cycle, beginning with the release of the hormone melatonin from the pineal gland, appears to support the body’s immune system by resetting the balance of healthy bacteria in the small intestine. Melatonin is also produced by enterochromaffin cells in the gut (which also produce serotonin).

Melatonin, in combination with the hormone prolactin, triggers an immune response that regenerates the micro flora and epithelial lining in the small intestine to restore a healthy balance and negate the threat of viruses, bacteria, and other toxins in the body. Eight hours of sleep is optimal for this melatonin and prolactin production to occur.  Anything less does not allow these hormones to effectively balance the gut flora which is key to supporting the immune system.  Melatonin is also thought to help regulate inflammation and support glutathione levels.  This study  directly showed that melatonin helped reduce inflammation and improve insulin sensitivity in rats with diet-induced obesity.

Melatonin has also been shown to support motility of the gut’s smooth muscle cells, regulate the production of hydrochloric acid and pepsin and support healthy bile flow.


Melatonin Supports Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Melatonin is also produced in the lining of the gut (by the enterochromaffin cells of the digestive mucosa) and can be between 10 and 100 times more concentrated in the gut than they are in the blood.  This is known as enteric melatonin and seems to serve a different function from melatonin released from the pineal gland, known as neural melatonin which acts as an endocrine hormone and is secreted into the blood stream. In contrast, enteric melatonin, produced in the gut, acts as on the surface of neighboring cells and helps carry information between the gut and the brain. Gut melatonin helps increase gut motility, protect the gut mucosa, regulate inflammation and protect the pancreas.

Studies have shown that melatonin supplements can improve the symptoms of IBS in various different ways, especially abdominal pain and overall quality of life. “Melatonin plays an important part in gastrointestinal physiology which includes regulation of gastrointestinal motility, local anti-inflammatory reaction as well as moderation of visceral sensation.”

Melatonin was found to support IBS treatment by supporting analgesic effects and regulating gastrointestinal motility. Studies consistently showed improvement in abdominal pain and  some showed improvement in quality of life of IBS patients.


Melatonin and Weight

Melatonin may also affect weight, by affecting levels of leptin and adiponectin, two very important hormones for weight regulation. Sleeping less than 6 hours per night has been shown to increase risk of obesity by 55% in adults (90% in children!).

Research shows that sleep deprivation reduces levels of melatonin, which then throws off leptin levels. Melatonin also directly helps regulate insulin sensitivity and the activity of brown fat.


Essential Oils to Support Sleep and Gut Health

Topically applied essential oils can play a huge role in supporting your natural master clock and circadian rhythms that are so important for gut health. Oils can be especially powerful in supporting the brain as the brain is comprised primarily of fat and essential oils are fat soluble so they easily penetrate and assimilate into the system.

Circadian Rhythm®:  Melatonin is the key hormone to help support our healthy circadian rhythms. Circadian Rhythm® blend can be applied around the base of the skull (apex of head, above ears and back of head) to help trigger the natural release of melatonin.


Featured Oil:

Circadian Rhythm®
available here

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About The Author

Jodi Cohen

Jodi Sternoff Cohen is the founder of Vibrant Blue Oils. An author, speaker, nutritional therapist, and a leading international authority on essential oils, Jodi has helped over 50,000 individuals support their health with essential oils.