Prebiotics May Improve Sleep and Relieve Stress: Study


Much has been touted about probiotics in recent years, so much so they have usurped vitamins as the most popular supplement for one’s health. But to keep probiotics — the live bacteria which helps to improve gut health — going strong, your body also needs adequate prebiotics.

Now, a study says increasing your prebiotics will also aid in getting more restful sleep and relieving stress by boosting your gut bacteria levels.

Onions, asparagus and leeks are adequate sources of prebiotic fiber. Credit: Laurel F/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

The research for this study was published in the online journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. It showed that regular consumption of prebiotics — non-digestible fibers found in foods like, asparagus, oatmeal and legumes — can help beneficial gut bacteria and promote normal sleep patterns after a stressful event. Other good prebiotic foods include artichokes, leeks and onions.

“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,” postdoctoral fellow and study author Dr. Agnieszka Mika said. “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.”

Related: 5 Probiotic-Packed Foods to Add to Your Diet

This theory was tested using rodents. For several weeks before the stressful test situation, test rats received a prebiotic diet, while control rats did not. After experiencing the stressful event, the rats on the prebiotic-enriched diet did not have stress-induced disruptions in their gut microbiota. These prebiotic rats also resumed healthier sleep patterns in a quicker time frame than the control rats.

The stress stimuli the rats experienced was equal to a single acute and intense episode for humans, like a car accident or loss of a loved one. But more research still has to be done to uncover if humans would yield the same results.

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

Related: The Role Sleep Plays in Processing Traumatic Events

That still remains to be seen. Meanwhile, medical professionals believe that, along with probiotics, people should add prebiotic foods to their diets as well. Specifically, consuming the recommended amount of at least five grams of prebiotic fiber per day will not only give you more restful sleep, but also help you maintain healthy gut bacteria.

“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.”