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Prebiotics: A New Ally for Better Sleep and Less Stress?


If you tend to toss and turn at night due to stress, add prebiotic foods to your arsenal of insomnia-fighting tools. A study shows they reduce the adverse effects of tension on sleep.

Most people are familiar with probiotics, which are supplements and fermented foods like yogurt that contain strains of “friendly” bacteria. However, prebiotics aren’t as well known. These are fiber-rich whole grains, fruits and vegetables, which include an extensive list of foods such as oats, barley, apples, onions, leeks and asparagus. They feed the beneficial microbes in the gut, causing them to multiply. Moreover, when the good bacteria digest prebiotics, they release byproducts that can influence brain function.

Prebiotics Improved Two Phases of Sleep

Psychologists are aware that stress plays a key role in insomnia, as earlier research indicates it can harm gut bacteria in a way that interferes with the sleep-wake cycle. The recent first-of-its-kind study at the University of Colorado Boulder found prebiotic foods buffer this harmful physiological reaction, thus resulting in better quality sleep.

In the study, scientists fed two groups of 3-week old male rats for four weeks: the control group received a standard diet, and the other group received a diet that contained prebiotics. They measured body temperature, analyzed gut bacteria using fecal samples and monitored sleep-wake cycles with an electroencephalogram, a test that measures brain activity.

The results showed the rats fed the prebiotics diet experienced more non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, a phase known to be restorative, than those on the regular diet.

“Given that sufficient NREM sleep and proper nutrition can impact brain development and function and that sleep problems are common in early life, it is possible that a diet rich in prebiotics started in early life could help improve sleep, support the gut microbiota and promote optimal brain/psychological health,” the authors wrote.

Aside from the NREM benefit, the prebiotics also improved the rapid-eye movement (REM) phase of sleep. When both groups of rats were exposed to a big stressor, those in the prebiotic diet group spent more time in REM sleep than the group fed the control diet. This phase is thought to be vital for stress recovery, as research suggests people who get more of it after a trauma have a lower risk of suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.

Prebiotics Improved Gut Health and Regulated Body Temperature

Fecal samples revealed the rats fed the prebiotic diet had an increase in beneficial gut bacteria compared to the control group. This improvement included Lactobacillus rhamnosus, a strain that supports immunity.

In addition, the rats on the probiotic diet had a lower risk of experiencing abnormalities in body temperature that stem from stress-induced changes in gut bacteria.

“These data are the first to show that a diet rich in prebiotics can modulate the sleep-wake cycle both before and after stress and induce stress-protective effects in diurnal physiology and the gut microbiota,” the researchers concluded.

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.


Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.

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