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Prebiotics could help treat insomnia

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Colorado: In addition to keeping your gut healthy, prebiotics can also help people suffering from insomnia by inducing good sleep, suggests a study.

The research shows that specific fibers known as prebiotics can improve sleep and boost stress resilience by influencing gut bacteria and the potent biologically active molecules, or metabolites, they produce.

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The research could ultimately lead to new approaches to treating sleep problems, which affect 70 million Americans.

“The biggest takeaway here is that this type of fiber is not just there to bulk up the stool and pass through the digestive system. It is feeding the bugs that live in our gut and creating a symbiotic relationship with us that has powerful effects on our brain and behavior,” said the lead researcher Robert Thompson.

Most people are familiar with probiotics, friendly bacteria present in fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut.

More recently, scientists have taken an interest in prebiotics dietary compounds that humans cannot digest but serve as nourishment for our microbiome, or the trillions of bacteria residing within us.

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While not all fibers are prebiotics, many fibrous foods like leeks, artichokes, onions and certain whole grains are rich in them.

For the study, the researchers started adolescent male rats on either standard chow or chow infused with prebiotics and tracked an array of physiological measures before and after the rats was stressed.

As reported in the researchers’ previous study, those on the prebiotic diet spent more time in restorative non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep. After stress, they also spent more time in rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep, which is believed to be critical for recovery from stress.

While rats eating standard chow saw an unhealthy flattening of the body’s natural temperature fluctuations and a drop in healthy diversity of their gut microbiome after stress, those fed prebiotics were buffered from these effects.

The new study sheds light on how prebiotics can help bust stress.

“We know that this combination of dietary fibers helps promote stress robustness and good sleep and protects the gut microbiome from disruption. With this new study, we wanted to try to identify the signal,” said researcher Monika Fleshner.

Using a technology called mass spectrometry to analyze the rats’ fecal samples, the researchers measured metabolites, or bioactive small molecules produced by bacteria as food is broken down.

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