We all know a good night's sleep is essential to our health. Not only do our bodies repair and rebuild overnight, but poor sleep can make us struggle to perform the next day and affect our mood, too. That's not to mention the impacts of long-term sleep deprivation.
While you can put one of the best sunrise alarm clocks on your side table to kick start your day, new research has found a way to promote good sleep rather than combat the effects of extreme tiredness.
Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder (opens in new tab) have found that prebiotics, nutrients that support gut health, might be the key to overcoming jet lag and other disruptions to our circadian rhythm, otherwise known as our body clock.
Previous studies (opens in new tab) had shown that a diet high in prebiotics slept better and were more resistant to the damaging effects of sleep. The new research, funded by the US Navy, explored the links between prebiotics and resilience to body clock disruptions.
The team raised two sets of rats, with one group eating regular food and the other consuming prebiotic-enriched food. The animals were then exposed to eight weeks of light cycle changes, designed to mimic travelling to a different time zone with a 12-hour difference every week for two months.
The research found high-prebiotic diets restored sleep patterns faster than the control group. These results were consistent with their previous research into prebiotic use, although they noted that the rats were fed excessive quantities.
All of this adds to growing evidence about how the gut affects our health. It's important to know that prebiotics, indigestible carbohydrates which feed your gut bacteria, are different from probiotics, which introduce new bacteria into your gut.
Best foods for prebiotics
Fortunately, you don't need to go and buy dozens of probiotic yogurt to support this ecosystem. Instead, according to Monash University, you can find prebiotics in a range of foods, including:
- Vegetables: Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, garlic, onion, leek, shallots, spring onion, asparagus, beetroot, fennel bulb, green peas, snow peas, sweetcorn, savoy cabbage
- Legumes: Chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, baked beans, soybeans
- Fruit: Custard apples, nectarines, white peaches, persimmon, tamarillo, watermelon, rambutan, grapefruit, pomegranate, dried fruit like figs or dates
- Bread, cereals, snacks: Barley, rye bread, rye crackers, pasta, gnocchi, couscous, wheat bran, wheat bread, oats, cashews, pistachio nuts
In collaboration with the US Navy, the researchers hope that it might be possible one day to take customized prebiotic supplements to help you get your body clock back on track. Until those become a reality, there are plenty of ways you can manage your sleep for better rest right now.
There's evidence (opens in new tab) that vigorous exercise can offset the effects of poor sleep, so it's a good idea to do some of the best workouts for abs to undo some of the damage. If you spend hours restless and awake in bed, consider some of the tricks to teach your body to sleep.
Tracking how you sleep over time can also help identify trends and root out the causes of your troubled nights. Fortunately, investing in one of the best fitness trackers is an effortless way to gather activity data at night and throughout the day.
James is a London-based journalist and Staff Writer at Fit&Well. He has over five years experience in fitness tech, including time spent as the Buyer’s Guide Editor and Staff Writer at technology publication MakeUseOf. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a chronic health condition, which spurred his interest in health, fitness, and lifestyle management.
In the years since, he has become a devoted meditator, experimented with workout styles and exercises, and used various gadgets to monitor his health. In recent times, James has been absorbed by the intersection between mental health, fitness, sustainability, and environmentalism. When not concerning himself with health and technology, James can be found excitedly checking out each week’s New Music Friday releases.
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