Prebiotics May Enhance Sleep Quality After A Stressful Event

Regular intake of prebiotics may promote beneficial gut bacteria and recovery of normal sleep patterns after a stressful episode, according to a new study.

Probiotics are known to benefit digestive health, but prebiotics are less well understood. Prebiotics are certain types of non-digestible fibers that probiotic bacteria feed on, such as the fibers found in many plant sources like asparagus, oatmeal, and legumes.

Certain bacteria also feed on non-fibers such as the protein lactoferrin, which also acts like a prebiotic and is found in breast milk.

Dr. Agnieszka Mika, a postdoctoral fellow and one of the authors of the study, explained:

“Acute stress can disrupt the gut microbiome, and we wanted to test if a diet rich in prebiotics would increase beneficial bacteria as well as protect gut microbes from stress-induced disruptions. We also wanted to look at the effects of prebiotics on the recovery of normal sleep patterns, since they tend to be disrupted after stressful events.”

The study was conducted by Professor Monika Fleshner, PhD, and her team at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Recovering Normal Sleep Patterns

In this experiment, test rats received prebiotic diets for several weeks prior to a stressful test condition and compared with control rats that did not receive the prebiotic-enriched diet. Interestingly, rats that ate prebiotics prior to the stressful event did not experience stress-induced disruption in their gut microbiota, and also recovered healthier sleep patterns sooner than controls.

Given that these experiments were done in rats, are these results relevant for humans?

“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,” said lead author Dr. Robert S. Thompson. “A next set of studies will be looking exactly at that question – can prebiotics help humans to protect and restore their gut microflora and recover normal sleep patterns after a traumatic event?”

In the mean time, should we start including prebiotics in our diets to help cope with stress?

“So far no adverse effects from prebiotics have been reported,” said Dr. Mika, “and they are found widely in many plants, even present in breast milk, and are already commercially available.”

Prebiotic Sources

Prebiotics are typically non-digestible fiber compounds that pass undigested through the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract and stimulate the growth or activity of advantageous bacteria that colonize the large bowel by acting as substrate for them.

Sources of prebiotics include:

  • Raw Jerusalem Artichoke
  • Raw Banana
  • Whole Wheat Flour, Cooked
  • Raw Wheat Bran
  • Raw Asparagus
  • Cooked Onion
  • Raw Garlic
  • Raw Dandelion Greens

Note: the immediate addition of substantial quantities of prebiotics to the diet may result in an increase in fermentation, leading to increased gas production, bloating or bowel movement.

Robert S. Thompson, Rachel Roller, Agnieszka Mika, Benjamin N. Greenwood, Rob Knight, Maciej Chichlowski, Brian M. Berg, Monika Fleshner
Dietary Prebiotics and Bioactive Milk Fractions Improve NREM Sleep, Enhance REM Sleep Rebound and Attenuate the Stress-Induced Decrease in Diurnal Temperature and Gut Microbial Alpha Diversity
Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 2017; 10 DOI: 10.3389/fnbeh.2016.00240

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