We already know there is a connection between sleep deprivation and a higher risk of suffering from diseases such as diabetes, obesity and cancer. Now, a new study by scientists at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) in Florida (USA) goes on to show that poor sleep is also linked to poor gut microbiota diversity, which in turns affects overall health.

Sleep is pretty much the ‘Swiss Army Knife of health’. Getting a good night’s sleep can lead to improved health, whereas a lack of sleep can have detrimental effects,” explains Jaime Tartar, research director at NSU’s College of Psychology and co-author of the study, published in Plos One.

“Getting a good night’s sleep can lead to improved health, whereas a lack of sleep can have detrimental effects,”

The researchers undertook an experiment with 40 young healthy male volunteers, who were asked to wear a connected watch for 30 days. The device objectively monitored aspects of the quality and quantity of their sleep, taking into account factors that included bedtime, time spent in bed, total sleep time or the number of awakenings during the night.

Researchers also extracted DNA from participants’ fecal samples to examine gut microbiota diversity. We know that a more diverse gut microbiota seems to be associated with better overall health. And in this regard, Tartar highlights, a lack of gut microbiota diversity has been associated with diseases such as Parkinson’s, depression and autoimmune diseases.

After analyzing the fecal samples, the team found that the subjects who slept well had a more diverse gut microbiota and, inversely, that poor sleep was associated with decreased microbiota diversity.

A lack of gut microbiota diversity has been associated with diseases such as Parkinson’s, depression and autoimmune diseases.

“We were completely fascinated to see such strong correlation between different sleep measurements and gut microbiota diversity,” explains Tartar. “The next step is to try and understand if lower gut microbiota diversity causes poor sleep or whether, conversely, poor sleep leads to lower gut microbiota diversity. Right now we are planning a study to solve this question.”

The answer could lead to the development of potential interventions to improve gut microbiota diversity and thus, sleep quality and overall health.

Research:

Smith RP, Easson C, Lyle SM, et al. Gut microbiome diversity is associated with sleep physiology in humans. PLoS ONE. 2019; doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0222394.

Cristina Sáez
Cristina Sáez
Cristina Saez is a freelance science journalist. She works for several media, for instance the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, where she coordinates the science section, Big Vang; as well as research centres and scientific societies. She has been awarded for her journalistic work, among others, with the Boehringer Ingelheim Award in Medical Journalism 2015. Follow Cristina on Twitter @saez_cristina