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Weekend Sleep-Ins Can Be Gut Wrenching

It’s Bad for Your Belly


By Sean Zucker –

Nobody wants to wake up early for work, especially when it cuts into a full night’s rest. But occupational responsibilities reign supreme so many people resort to simply trading weekday snoozing for catching up on the weekends. Unfortunately, a new study out of the United Kingdom warns this sleep pattern can be bad for your gut and overall health


Researchers from King’s College London and Zoe, a personalized nutrition company, determined this after examining the connection between irregular sleep patterns and harmful gut bacteria. It’s the first study of its kind that looks at the various associations between social jet lag and diet quality, inflammation and gut microbiome. The research team defines social jet lag as the shift in an individual’s body clock when sleeping patterns change between workdays and days off. 


“We know that major disruptions in sleep, such as shift work, can have a profound impact on your health. This is the first study to show that even small differences in sleep timings across the week seem to be linked to differences in gut bacterial species,” reported senior author Dr. Wendy Hall. 


To test this link, the King’s College team examined data from Zoe Predict, an ongoing nutritional study focused on almost 1,000 people. The model involved assessing blood, stool and gut microbiome samples of each individual. The research team also took glucose measurements in those whose sleep was irregular compared to those who had a routine sleep schedule. 


The college’s study zeroed in on the people who averaged at least seven hours of sleep nightly during the work week. The team discovered that just a 90-minute difference in the timing of the midpoint of sleep, which is the halfway point between sleep time and wake-up time, resulted in significant differences in gut microbiome composition. 


This change is significant because the composition of microbes in an individual’s gut can have either a positive or negative impact on their health depending on whether it produces toxic or beneficial metabolites, the researchers noted. Additionally, some specific species of microbes have been found to influence the risk of long-term health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity. 


The study also discovered that roughly half of the microbiota species that were commonly found in those with weekly social jet lag were associated with unfavorable health. Many of these microbes were previously known to be linked with poor diet, obesity and negative cardiometabolic health. 


Hall warned that these drawbacks may only be the beginning of the health concerns. “Some of these associations were linked to dietary differences but our data also indicates that other, as yet unknown, factors may be involved. We need intervention trials to find out whether improving sleep time consistency can lead to beneficial changes in the gut microbiome and related health outcomes,” she said. 


This new research supports long-held warnings posed by The American Heart Association (AHA), which warned that binge sleeping isn’t healthy. Beyond this, the AHA reports that 50 million U.S. adults don’t get enough sleep or have chronic sleep disorders like sleep apnea and insomnia. These conditions, as well as sleep deprivation, can increase inflammation and alter the human “fight or flight” stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. The association notes that these shifts may lead to high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease and stroke.


These findings also come at a disadvantageous time for mature adults, as new reports indicate that people are continuing to work later into their lives. A global study from Bain and Company, a Boston-based management consulting company, indicates that by 2030 as many as 150 million jobs worldwide will shift over to those 55 and older. Bain, in fact, predicts older and experienced workers will make up more than a quarter of the workforce by 2031 across each of the G7 countries of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. 


Dr. Sarah Berry, a chief scientist at Zoe, advises workers to do their best to develop a consistent snoozing schedule because it will minimize the risks associated with social jet lag. “Maintaining regular sleep patterns, so when we go to bed and when we wake each day, is an easily adjustable lifestyle behavior we can all do, that may impact your health via your gut microbiome for the better,” she said.





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