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Prebiotics could have a positive impact on sleep quality

Maintaining healthy gut flora might be helpful for more than just digestive issues, according to researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder. A new study has found that fueling the good bacteria in the intestines with prebiotics (yes, prebiotics, not probiotics) could have a positive impact on sleep quality.

Prebiotics are dietary fibers found in foods like jicama, raw garlic, leeks, onions, artichokes, asparagus and dandelion greens. Existing good bacteria that feed off these prebiotics can reproduce more rapidly and release metabolic byproducts, which can in turn boost our levels of both rapid-eye-movement (REM) and non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep.

While REM sleep is usually cited as the most important element of our nocturnal sojourns, NREM is also extremely important for brain function and development, especially in children. Researchers in the study found that young rats spent more time in both of these states when fed a diet high in prebiotics, which significantly helped to reduce their stress levels.

“Beneficial bacteria produce many beneficial metabolites, including several short-chain fatty acids, as well as modulate serotonin metabolism,” says Professor Monika Fleshner, whose lab conducted the study. She adds that researchers don’t yet know “the specific bacterial-derived metabolites that can impact sleep,” so more studies will be necessary to dig deeper into prebiotic benefits to corroborate these initial findings.

Robert Thompson, Ph.D., first author of the study, has high hopes for future discoveries in this area. “We are continuing to analyze data from this published study,” he says. “We also are currently working on another project for the Navy using a prebiotic diet.” Stay tuned for more news about harnessing the prebiotic superpowers of the produce department.

—S.B.