We all know how much harder the day can be after a bad night's sleep. Especially in times of stress, whether from work, family, or studying, sleep is all important. If you have insomnia, which is thought to affect 1 in 3 people in the UK, you may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Repeated sleepless nights can trigger a range of physical and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and stress, and can cause problems such as poor concentration, slower reaction time or a general decline in mental functioning.

As we know stress can be very damaging to sleep patterns. When we sleep less this can cause a surge in our stress hormones in the hippocampus - in particular cortisol that creates a vicious circle in disturbing circadian rhythms.

Prebiotics are fibres that feed probiotics. A recent study by Thompson et al suggests that prebiotics reduce the physiological impact of stress on the body and in turn the quality of  sleep. Young rats were given a diet rich in prebiotics from the age of three weeks and their rapid eye movement (REM) and non rapid eye movement (NREM) was studied.

Previous research on rats suggests that daily stress can affect your gut microbiome, the healthy gut flora.  When there is an imbalance in the gut - known as dysbiosis -  this can alter your sleep/wake cycle.  Ensuring optimal feeding of your gut flora in your intestinal tract will also  help prevent a compromising of your immune system.   

To maximise the benefit of your gut microbiome you should consider the following: 

  • Eat plenty of fermented foods - fermented raw vegetable, kefir (either water or dairy)

  • Increase levels of soluble and insoluble fibre - vegetables, nuts, seeds and sprouted vegetables

  • Get dirty - bacteria in the garden and getting hands in the soil a great way of building immunity

  • Do the dishes rather than using a dishwasher, for less chance of sterility

  • Open the window and take in natural light and increased air flow


Early life gut microbial dysbiosis is associated with increased risk of allergic disease, collitis and gut inflammation.

Prebiotics are non-digestible fibres found in foods such as Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, dandelion leaves, asparagus and onions. They all contain a water soluble fibre called inulin that nourishes probiotics, that in turn nourish a healthy gut.

The researchers' aim was to see whether feeding healthy gut flora with prebiotics improved quality of sleep whilst under stress. The result was an increase in healthy bacteria with more restorative sleep and restful NREM.

The researchers wrote: "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."

If you struggle to eat enough prebiotic foods, supplementing your diet with psyllium husks (preferably organic) can be a cost effective way of increasing fibre intake.

Not sleeping well can have a massive impact on our day, slowing down productivity, and  cognitive functioning, and chronic lack of sleep can lead to depression, diabetes, increased chances of dementia, lowered sex drive, heart failure and strokes amongst others. Aside from a diet rich in prebiotic fibre to support the quality of our sleep, there are other tips such as: 

  • exercising every day

  • exposure to bright light first thing in the day

  • taking a walk in the afternoon 

  • no caffeine after lunch onwards

  • no screen time after 8 pm  

  • eating lightly in the evening and leaving three hours after food before sleeping so your body has less work to do digesting food  when sleeping