Have you ever noticed your children sleep poorly when they’ve got a sore tummy? Or maybe their sleep has improved when you’ve changed their diet?
There is a two-way link between gut health and sleep. This is particularly true when it comes to our kids. By improving gut health, we can encourage our children to have deeper and more restful sleep.
Watch the video below or keep reading to learn how a healthy, happy gut can influence how well our children sleep.
How Gut Health Affects How Our Children Sleep
Many children experience sleep issues. Different cycles and stages of life will influence their sleep – just because you have a baby who sleeps well doesn’t mean that will continue as they age.
When a child isn’t sleeping well, parents will often reach for the bedtime routine, put away the screens, and cut out soft drinks. You might even begin giving them calming nutrients such as magnesium.
While these are good strategies, one overlooked factor is the digestive system. The state of your child’s gut health can make or break how well they sleep.
There are some obvious ways that gut health can influence sleep. For example, we know that overt symptoms such as reflux, bloating and tummy pain can make it difficult to sleep. Sleep is often disturbed when a child has a worm infection due to the itching sensation.
When we are resting, the body switches over to the parasympathetic nervous system. This system is also known as rest-and-digest. So it makes sense that when we’re resting, gut issues can become evident and affect how well we sleep.
Research supports the link between the gut and sleep. Studies have shown that people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are more likely to have a sleep disorder such as insomnia.
We know that gut health and sleep are intricately linked, but we’re still uncovering the reasons why. However, there are two big connections that we see influencing children’s sleep in the clinic.
The gut-brain connection
The gut is often referred to as the second brain, because it has a powerful effect on the brain and the body. There is two-way communication between the two via the vagus nerve. So what affects the brain affects the gut, and what affects the gut affects the brain.
Both systems influence the production and balance of neurotransmitters. These brain chemicals can affect our mood, behaviour and sleep.
Many brain chemicals are involved in sleep. Melatonin, the key sleep hormone, is highest at night to induce sleep. In the morning, levels drop, allowing us to wake.
When melatonin is out of balance, it can lead to sleep issues. This might be trouble falling asleep if melatonin levels are low, or feeling groggy if levels don’t drop in the morning.
Many children with sleep issues take melatonin as a supplement. However, it is important to uncover why their melatonin levels are out of balance in the first place.
Other chemicals involved in sleep include:
Although brain chemicals can be produced in the brain, many are predominately produced in the gut.
Studies have linked low diversity in the gut flora to imbalances in neurotransmitters. This can affect not only sleep, but mood, behaviour and stress tolerance. It becomes a negative cycle, as mood and stress issues can be detrimental to sleep.
The key to restoring balance is working on the diversity of the microbiome.
Food allergies and intolerances
We often see that uncovering and addressing food allergies and intolerances can have a dramatic effect on a child’s sleep.
Allergies and intolerances are directly related to gut and immune health. They are indicators that there are problems with regulating the gut and immune response.
Some common sleep issues associated with food allergies and intolerances include:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Frequent waking throughout the night
- Night terrors
- Sleepwalking and talking
- Sleep apnoea
- Teeth grinding
Of course, all of these issues can be multi-factorial, but more often than not, they are associated with intolerances.
The most common intolerance we see in children with sleep issues is dairy. Other common intolerances that cause sleep-related symptoms include:
- Food additives – flavours, colours and artificial sweeteners
Eliminating the food allergies and intolerances is only one piece of the puzzle. We also want to improve their gut health so that they can tolerate a range of wholefoods.
If you want to improve how your children sleep, addressing their gut health is essential.
For simple and practical strategies to support your family’s gut health, download our FREE Kids Gut Health Ebook here.