One Type of Food Eases Stress, Helps You Sleep, Study Finds

In All Health Watch, Anti-Aging, Diet and Nutrition, Featured Article

For years, researchers have told us about the importance of probiotics for good health. “Good” bacteria have been shown to aid digestion, fight depression, and boost immunity.

Now, a new study has found that prebiotics—the so-called “fertilizer” for probiotics—have their own unique set of health benefits. Prebiotics are plant fibers that nourish probiotic bacteria.

Researchers at the University of Colorado say there is strong evidence that prebiotics ease stress and insomnia.1

Deeper, More Restful Sleep

Scientists split 52 male rats into two groups. One was fed standard rat food. The other ate food fortified with prebiotics.2

At the end of the three weeks, the researchers introduced a stressor to both groups. They shocked the animals’ tails at irregular intervals.

Normally, after stressful events, animals and humans suffer loss of good gut bacteria. And the rats in the study not eating prebiotics did see a drop. But the prebiotic group had no reduction of healthy stomach microbes.

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What’s more, the prebiotic rats did not experience other stress markers, such as abnormalities in body temperature.

The researchers then tested sleep patterns in both groups using brain scans. They found that animals fed prebiotics had much deeper sleep. They spent more time in non-REM sleep. This is the kind of sleep that is restorative and makes you feel energized afterward.3

Researchers concluded: “These data are the first to show that a diet rich in prebiotics can modulate the sleep-wake cycle both before and after stress.”

Robert Thompson is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Colorado. He is lead author of the study.

“We found that dietary prebiotics can improve non-REM sleep, as well as REM sleep after a stressful event,” he said. The research was published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

Natural Alternative to Sleeping Pills

The study has major implications for the 40 million Americans who suffer serious sleep disorders. Stress is often the cause of their insomnia.4

The standard treatment is sleeping pills. But they can cause a multitude of side effects. Common ones include balance issues, daytime drowsiness, headaches, attention and memory problems, stomach pain, and diarrhea.

A 2012 study in the journal BMJ Open even linked sleep drugs to cancer and a quadrupled risk of death from any cause.5,6

These drugs also can interfere with your ability to breathe. Particularly if you have asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).7

Top 10 Prebiotic-Rich Foods

These foods are among the highest in prebiotics. If you feel stressed or have trouble sleeping, add more of them to your diet.8

  • Artichokes
  • Leeks
  • Garlic
  • Jicama
  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Peas
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Avocado

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