Guts and Glory - My Experience in Kicking Insomnia Through My Gut

Guts and Glory - My Experience in Kicking Insomnia Through My Gut


I sat up and started paying attention to the subject of gut health about a year or so ago when I went trying to understand my ongoing insomnia and foggy brain. Like unwelcome houseguests, they'd been visiting me with increasing regularity and I'd begun to just accept these as normal byproducts of stress-peppered modern life. A nutritionist friend mentioned my gut health as a possible source of the problem, but I couldn't fathom how my guts had anything to do with sleep or energy. I proudly told her that I eat healthily, I exercise, I try to avoid processed/sugary foods, I limit alcohol intake ... so where on earth is my sleep and energy?

But like unravelling a thread from a fallen hem, once I started reading about the underestimated digestive empire, I had to read more. 18 months on, I get it, completely, but the path to understanding hasn't been easy. What I now know is that the gut is most definitely the lynchpin of my own health, my energy levels and finally, that good night's sleep. I'm happy to share my "layman's" experience in deciphering the hype from the facts, which I hope will shorten your own journey if this is a topic you're keen to know more about.   

One of the first wow moments for me was watching the pioneer scientist Dr. Rob Knight, co-founder of The American Gut Project (the largest crowd-sourced science project in the world) in his hugely informative and engaging Ted Talk.  

Dr. Knight painted the canvas for me in grasping the scale of what happens in our digestive systems in which billions of bacteria known as the microbiome live. His talk laid out clearly this massive, internal world which influences countless body and mind functions via a dizzying number of sensory cells. But what I hadn't grasped at this beginners' stage was the connection to my own problems. How was this in any way relevant to sleep and clearing the fog? As I then discovered, Dr. Knight's work was just a taster of what I went on to learn. 
I started to read about the "gut-brain axis" which became my next port of call. Fortunately, the task was made infinitely easier in discovering this brilliant talk, Food for Thought - How Your Belly Controls Your Brain by neuroscientist, microbiologist and nutritionist Dr. Ruairí Robertson. His video was so helpful in tying my learning together, by which point I was well over the hurdle of my own hesitance in accepting the facts about my shrivelling energy and early waking - it was, in fact, my gut and not my brain I needed to address.
Sleep, mood/emotional equilibrium, mental health,  stress,  depression, autism, dementia are some of the countless physical and mental health problems being connected to gut health, or what's also called the second brain.
How gut bacteria affects the brain and body 
In parallel to my personal search, I was being contacted on a weekly basis by customers with chronic health problems, and they too were looking into gut health. In many cases it was hormonal imbalances, joint inflammation or digestive problems that no medicine was curing. Oftentimes it was a mum trying to clean up her kid's diet to see if this would alleviate behavioural challenges.   

The collective research wisdom of countless microbiologists, neuroscientists, toxicologists and leading medical experts were all agreed - if you wanted to fix your health, you must first fix your gut. For me, for friends and many customers, the microbiome genie was now out of the bottle, and it was time for action.
Clinical Psychologist and Sleep Specialist Dr. J. Breus's essay in Huffington Post helped me understand what drives insomnia, and how this intersects with fatigue and foggy brain. He explained that chronic disruption to the circadian rhythm has a profoundly negative impact on the microbiome - if your sleep is out of whack, the gut's ability to do its complex job is severely compromised. But it's a two-way street; a busted microbiome impairs the body's ability to generate the magic ingredients to sleep - the hormones serotonin and melatonin.

How gut health affects your sleep

I was fascinated to learn that over 90% of the serotonin our bodies produce is, in fact, produced in the gut. In addition, serotonin is the building block of melatonin, the sleep hormone that was going into hiding for me most nights. However, the big eye-opener was reading that we have 400 times more melatonin in our gut than in the brain-  Dr. Ron Marriotti.

With this new understanding of the relationship between my body's northern and southern hemispheres, that loose hem thread I mentioned above was now unraveling rapidly. Armed with this new learning, I could see the best way to sleep better and regain my energy was to improve the health of my microbiome. And that's exactly what I started to do.  


Now it was time to park the books and get down to business and this actually proved to be much easier than I'd expected.

Dr. Christiane Northrup explains that we can change our gut microbiome pretty quickly. "The average lifespan of a bacterium in your microbiome is 20 minutes, so you have the opportunity every time you eat to begin to change the population of your gut." I didn't need to sign up to any special diet - I could begin redecorating my microbiome immediately, one meal at a time.

The process of making this shift was actually very straightforward. First of all, I reduced my sugar intake (bye-bye Cedele carrot cake) and any processed food or refined carbs (bye-bye crusty baguette). I also focused on getting as many carbs as possible from leafy veg and low-sugar fruits, adding turmeric wherever I could. 
Then I began drinking Kombucha everyday and adding turmeric and ginger to give myself an extra boost. Fast forward a couple of years and the impact on my health by incorporating these 2 drinks led me to make my own! Sasha's Farms Kombuchas and Gut Shots are part of my daily routine and I swear by them both. You don't need a whole bottle of kombucha a day (although you can), I have half a bottle a day with one gut shot (we sell bottles of 11 or 22 shots). 
I also try to consume as much bone broth as possible (often described as liquid gold or concentrated healing), which I can almost feel doing its wonderful job.

I'm making time for exercise most days - walking, HIIT training and some fun spinning classes with my daughter. As well as my precious family time, I also do my best to carve out time to connect with friends, which most definitely boosts my mood.  

Am I sleeping better? YES!  Within a couple of weeks, sleep really began to settle to the point where an interrupted night is the exception. Energy? Fog? Both have lifted significantly, with lots of other bonus improvements too. Relapses? Yes! I don't beat myself up if I have the occasional wedge of chocolate cake or a dip in the crisp bowl. Probiotics? No. A nutritionist I really trust was so impressed with Sasha's Farms Kombuchas she advised against adding any probiotics, saying that a glass of this a day was better than any probiotic I could buy. Budget impact? I'm saving money! A glass of kombucha is a fraction of the cost of a high-quality probiotic.   


I'm grateful to have access to high-quality ingredients that are free of hormones, antibiotics and additives ,which has made this experience all the more easy. Sourcing food I could personally trust was the very reason I started Sasha's Fine Foods, and perhaps this recent personal experience is an extension of my work. I certainly have a deeper appreciation for the very products I work with every day, and the story of where they've all come from. Nothing beats eating as close to nature as we can.

I hope some of what I've shared will be useful to you in whatever wellness goals or challenges you have.

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