If you have trouble sleeping, or your sleep pattern is disrupted, you may have more to worry about than headaches or tiredness in the daytime.
It has been known for a long time that shift workers often develop problems such as obesity and other metabolic diseases like Type 2 diabetes.
Dr Amy Reynolds, of Central Queensland University, says research indicates that gut flora, the microbe population living in our intestine, may help us understand these poor health outcomes.
Results from research Dr Reynolds carried out in 2016 suggest that gut flora may have their own daily “circadian rhythm”, like our own sleep and waking cycle. This means that, like us, they peak and decline at certain times of the day.
Just as shift work interrupts our normal biological day, it can also interrupt the normal daily rhythm of our gut population.
A study in the journal Nature found that when mice do not get enough sleep, or no sleep at all, they had an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria, and bacteria were found growing outside the gut. The mice also tended to eat more and displayed signs of inflammation.
Dr Reynolds used these findings to lead one of the first human studies into sleep deprivation and its impact on gut flora. Participants in the study stayed awake for 63 hours, missing two nights of sleep. She then compared activity in the gut flora to when they had slept from 11pm to 7am. Her first findings showed a clear difference in the gut flora.
If her findings are correct, then it seems that an extra coffee or two will not help your overall health if your sleeping patterns are disturbed. It also suggests that if you are suffering gut problems for no obvious reason, you should examine your sleeping patterns.