Prebiotics for Sleep

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM; Carrie Lam, MD

For overall health improvement try prebiotics for sleepInsufficient sleep has become a public health problem, an epidemic, and linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, medical issues and many other occupational errors. The CDC has estimated in their latest calculations that 50-70 million American adults have sleep disorders! One unusual consideration that may help in this crisis is including prebiotics for sleep. What is behind this disorienting, debilitating and often deadly ailment?

Why Prebiotics for Sleep?

There are many elements to consider, but new research has even stronger evidence pointing towards stress-induced factors. There is a price to pay with being an active participant in this fast paced world. If people are not consciously aware and taking preventative measures in managing their stress levels, they will be overcome by them in one way or another. Sleep deprivation is one of the first physical manifestations that stress shows up as. Thankfully, there is new research that has just been released that can aid in all those who are suffering.

Scientists are now recommending prebiotics for sleep. Their work is the first of its kind to demonstrate that consuming a prebiotic diet can provide stress-protective effects on the sleep-wake behavior patterns.

The Science Behind The Prebiotics for Sleep Test

The new study conducted by Robert Thompson, of the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder and his colleagues, has just been released correlating the usage of prebiotics for better sleep in the medical journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

Prior to this, previous research had shown that stress did indeed alter microbiota from the stomach. These modified bacteria then affect what is known as the brain-gut axis, a system which connects the endocrine and nervous systems. The stress disruptions then trigger hormone-induced insomnia. In addition, when the body experiences stress, it also triggers changes in stomach secretions, motility and mucosal function, creating a negative environment for the good bacteria.

These modifications can lead to many gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and gastroesophageal reflux disease, or what is more commonly known as GERD. This we know. Thankfully, this new discovery has made it possible to prevent this process occurring from the beginning.

The Laboratory Study

Thompson’s team chose to use lab rats for the experiment consisting of two groups of male rats. The control group was fed standard rat food while the other group received a prebiotic supplement with their food. Fecal samples from the rats were collected and analyzed over a four-week period, and results showed an increase in beneficial gut bacteria for the prebiotic supplemental food group. Specifically, one of the bacteria found known as Lactobacillus rhamnosus is often used to aid in immune system function.

In Phase 2, the research was collected on the sleep-wake cycles of the rats using electroencephalography. The rats in the control group were found to spend less time in NREM, or non rapid eye movement sleep.

How important is this finding? The rats that consumed the prebiotics spent more time in the NREM revitalizing stage where it is believed that the body is thought to process information and store memories. NREM usually accounts for 20 to 50 percent of the average person’s slumber.

In the next phase, the team introduced a stress test to both groups of rats using electrical shocks on their tails. Dr. Thompson states that “The stressor the rats received was the equivalent of a single intense acute stressful episode for humans, such as a car accident or the death of a loved one.” With the new stressor, the prebiotic group displayed a definite increase in REM sleep cycles compared to the control group. More REM sleep has been shown to be associated with better stress recovery.

In conclusion, researchers concluded that the consumption of prebiotics most definitely encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract and strengthens the gut-brain axis allowing the body to recover more efficiently from stress related injuries. Therefore, the theory of using prebiotics for sleep has been successfully proven as being a great idea!

Sleep Deprivation and Stress

Sleep deprivation and prebiotics for sleepPersons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity. Stress causes another elongated list of health problems and can affect all aspects of life, including emotions, behavior, cognitive thinking, and physical health.

In actuality, no part of the body is immune to stress. Sleep loss symptoms can vary from vague to major medical conditions. The combination of the two, stress and sleep deprivation? Deadly.

Thankfully, there is now evidence to help this coupling by harnessing the power of prebiotics for sleep, which can decrease the damage of stress.

One recognizable illness highly affected by stress is known as adrenal fatigue. Its main symptoms are fatigue and lethargy, both of which require sleep for recovery. Many sufferers are told that they are “stressed” and need to “relax”, but they often lack the ability to do so. As we’ve seen, prebiotics can help combat stress-induced sleep ailments, and this particular type of illness responds greatly to less stress.

People diagnosed with adrenal fatigue are unable to tolerate stress and break down under severely stressful conditions. In fact, if stress and fatigue are left unaddressed, and the NeuroEndometabolic (NEM) system becomes dysfunctional, more devastating and debilitating symptoms emerge.

The body becomes engaged in an unending and persistent fatigue that can sometimes defy all medical logic. At this point, results from conventional medical testing can be normal. However, sufferers can, in fact, be suffering as intensely as being bedridden or even incapacitated.

Prebiotics for sleep in these instances? could be extremely beneficial and help sufferers tremendously in keeping their lives fully functioning by aiding in fully restorative sleep and stress recovery.

How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?

The National Institutes of Health indicate that the amount of sleep varies between individuals, but generally changes as we age. It is suggested that children receive at least 10 hours of sleep daily, teenagers need 9 – 10.5 hours per night, and adults require 7 – 8 hours of sleep.

However, 1 in every 3 people fail to meet these recommendations, and approximately 47 percent of adults in the United States reported sleep issues due to stress, which in turn only exacerbates their stress even more – creating a damaging cycle.

How can we break this? According to the newest research by Dr. Thompson, we can add prebiotics into our daily regimen of food consumption.

What are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are nondigestible food components that fuel the growth of the “good” gut bacteria. It has now been proven that when these good bacteria digest prebiotic fiber, they in turn release byproducts that can positively affect brain function. Prebiotics for sleep quality can be found in chicory, artichokes, onions, leeks, asparagus, oatmeal, legumes, and many other vegetables.

There are also certain bacteria that feed on non-fibrous foods such as the protein lactoferrin. This acts as a prebiotic as well and is found in important items, such as breast milk.

There have been no adverse side effects reported from prebiotics to date, only good benefits such as healthy gut bacteria and restful sleep. However, when your body is extremely sensitive, prebiotics may affect your digestion. With their availability in many plants, their presence in breast milk, and their commercial availability, prebiotics are now being given the attention and recognition they deserve as an important element in daily health.

Good Sleep Hygiene Habits

Prebiotics for sleep and good sleeping habitsIn addition to the consumption of prebiotics for sleep and the importance of a healthy gut, we must touch on the importance of good sleep hygiene, which means following the recommended allocation of sleep habits and patterns. This essentially means being in tune enough with your own body to recognize your personal sleep needs. During sleep, most of the body’s systems enter into an anabolic state, which helps to restore the immune, nervous, skeletal, and muscular systems; the vital processes that maintain mood, memory, and cognitive performance play a large role in the function of the endocrine and immune systems.

The following sleep hygiene tips can be useful in improving sleep along with prebiotics:

Good Sleep Patterns

Go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning. A messed up sleep pattern is one of the main causes of insomnia!

There are 3 types of sleep patterns:

  1. Monophasic – which is essentially what most people would call a normal sleeping pattern that includes an 8 hour sleep night
  2. Biphasic – where a person sleeps twice per day consisting of a long sleep during the night with a shorter rest during the day
  3. Polyphasic sleep – this pattern consists of multiple sleeps per day, generally ranging from 4 to 6 periods of sleep per day. Zany as it may sound, it has its benefits and deserves a bit of research!

However, our American culture is primarily based on the monophasic system, so it may be best to focus on that.

Avoid Large Meals Before Bedtime

Eating triggers acid production in the stomach, and lying down immediately following that late night meal can painfully cause acid to flow back up through your esophagus. Also, your metabolism fires up when eating and can cause difficulty in falling and staying asleep.

Avoid Caffeine Close to Bedtime

Why? According to SleepEducation.Org, “Caffeine is a type of drug that promotes alertness. These drugs are called ‘stimulants.’ Caffeine acts as an ‘adenosine receptor antagonist.’ Adenosine is a substance in your body that promotes sleepiness. Caffeine blocks the adenosine receptor to keep you from feeling sleepy.”

Yoga and Meditation

A low-intensity yoga, tai-chi, stretching session, and meditation are all recommended as perfect activities to do at bedtime. They can help you relax, unwind, clear the mind, all great sleep enhancing mechanisms.


Prebiotics for sleep and exerciseExercise during any part of the day will help in better sleep, however, it is not advised to participate in vigorous exercise within the last hour before sleep.

As you can see, there are many traditional ways to deal with issues regarding our health, and we can now add taking prebiotics for sleep and stress to the list. As previously stated, there are no adverse effects that have been reported from prebiotics, only good side effects including a healthy gut bacteria and restful sleep. Ensuring you receive your daily dose of prebiotics is definitely encouraged.

It is always recommended that you consult with your primary care physician, receive dietary coaching or nutritional coaching prior to beginning any new health regimen. As one may be allergic to a certain food and, therefore, must avoid it as a prebiotic enhancer.

Further research in the aforementioned study is needed to understand exactly how prebiotics affect sleep in humans and how the chemical mechanisms actually connect the gut flora to the sleep cycle. Optimistically, future testing could lead to more beneficial treatments for insomnia, and other stress and sleep disorder related issues such as adrenal fatigue, the NEM stress response system, depression and anxiety, heart disease, obesity, and gastrointestinal problems.

© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Prebiotics for sleep quality can be found in food items such as chicory, artichokes, onions, leeks, asparagus, oatmeal, legumes and many other vegetables. They can also be found naturally occurring in breast milk for infants. In addition, they are also available commercially in local health food stores as dietary supplementations.

prebiotics for sleep