Sleep Your Way to Better Digestion and Immunity

November 01, 2005
Volume 02    |   Issue 44

Last week, I talked about the connection between poor digestion and immunity. I told you that insufficient stomach acid might contribute to low immunity. But there are a number of other reasons for poor digestion, like not getting enough sleep. So let's take a closer look at improving your sleep. It could have an indirect, but powerful effect on your immune system.

A report published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings found an association between getting a good night's sleep and having digestive problems. In more than two thousand people, those with sleep disturbances or insomnia had more incidents of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), frequent heartburn, and indigestion than people who slept well.

The researchers aren't sure which causes which. Do sleep problems cause digestive complaints, or do digestive complains promote sleep disturbances? Surely, if you have digestive problems at night they could keep you from getting the rest you need. Still, there may be an entirely different underlying cause.

Some people who can't get a good night's sleep reach for a glass of warm milk before bed. But milk contributes to heartburn. And the calcium it contains causes muscles to contract. You want your muscles to relax. Instead, take extra magnesium if it doesn't cause exceptionally loose stools.

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Melatonin, a hormone made in our bodies that helps us sleep, is the only hormone I think is safe to self-medicate. As we get older, our bodies make less and less of it. From one to three mg of melatonin, found in any health food store, may give you a good night's sleep. Take it half an hour before you go to bed.

There are a number of relaxing herbs to choose from as well. Make a cup of tea with chamomile, hops, passionflower, valerian root (not the nicest smell, but an excellent herb for sleep), or skullcap. Traditional Medicinals brand, sold in most health food stores, has a wonderful new blend, Chamomile with Lavender, which should help you relax at night.

 Avoid reading stimulating books or listening to the news. Keep the lights in your living room dim for an hour or two before bed to ready your body for sleep.

Say a prayer of thankfulness, or meditate, when you get into bed. And watch your digestion, sleeping … and immunity improve with these small changes.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,


Swaroop V.S., R.G. Locke III, A.L. Weaver, S.A. Farmer, L.J. Melton III, and N.J. Talley. "Functional gastrointestinal disorders among people with sleep disturbances: a population-based study." Mayo Clin Proc, 2004;79:1501-1506.

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