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The Link Between Social Jet Lag And Your Gut Health

It’s fair to say that most of us – unless we’re working – look forward to the weekend. The socialising, the ‘you’ time, the cheeky lie-ins (unless you’re a parent of young kids) – what’s not to love?

Well, it turns out that ‘social jet lag’, or “the shift in your internal body clock when your sleeping patterns change between workdays and free days,” could well harm your gut’s microbiome, according to a recent study published in the European Journal of Nutrition.

Previous research has shown that working shifts disrupts the body clock and can increase the risk of weight gain, heart problems and diabetes.

However, less is known about the fact our biological rhythms can be affected by smaller inconsistencies in our sleep patterns – for example, waking up early with an alarm clock on workdays compared to waking naturally on non-workdays.

Your sleep seems to have an impact on your gut’s bacteria

The research, which involved 934 people from a ZOE PREDICT study, took blood, stool and gut microbiome samples as well as glucose measurements from the participants and measured those with a routine sleep schedule against those with more chaotic slumber.

They found that ”just a 90-minute difference in the timing of the midpoint of sleep – the halfway point between sleep time and wake-up time – is associated with differences in gut microbiome composition.”

So, for reference, if you usually go to bed at 10pm on a weekday but knock off at 11.30pm at the weekend, that could be impacting your gut bacteria – and not in a good way. The same goes with waking a lot later than you usually do.

‘Social jet lag’ was also associated with worse diets – we’re talking higher intakes of sugar-sweetened drinks, and lower intakes of fruits and nuts, which could influence the abundance of specific microbiota in your gut.

And three of the six microbiota species more abundant in the social jet lag group have “unfavourable” associations with health, said researchers.

These microbes are associated with poor diet quality, indicators of obesity and cardiometabolic health, and markers in the blood related to higher levels of inflammation and cardiovascular risk.

Dr Wendy Hall from KCL, a senior author of the study, said of the findings: “We know that major disruptions in sleep, such as shift work, can have a profound impact on your health. This is the first study to show that even small differences in sleep timings across the week seems to be linked to differences in gut bacterial species.”

She added that other factors, such as diet, might have a role to play in the differences – but reckons their findings warrant further investigation into the correlation between sleep and gut bacteria.

So, what can I do about it?

Dr Sarah Berry from King’s College London, and chief scientist at ZOE, shared that “maintaining regular sleep patterns, so when we go to bed and when we wake each day, is an easily adjustable lifestyle behaviour we can all do, that may impact your health via your gut microbiome for the better.”

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