Prebiotics in early life may boost sleep and daytime rhythms: Study

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock/TLFurrer
© iStock/TLFurrer

Related tags Gut microbiota Sleep Gut flora Probiotic

Supplementing the early life diet with prebiotics may boost the growth of selective bacteria in the gut and alleviate sleep disruptions caused by stress, says a new study.

A diet rich in galactooligosaccharides, polydextrose, lactoferrin, and milk fat globule membrane led to a better response to stress, including less disrupted REM sleep, and enhanced non-REM sleep, and less disruption of diurnal rhythms, according to findings of a study with lab rats published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience​.

“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,”​ wrote the researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder and Denver, UC San Diego, and Mead Johnson Nutrition.

Gut-brain axis

The study adds to the ever-growing body of science supporting the effects of the gut microbiota on the brain, the gut-brain axis.

Commenting independently on the study’s findings, Mark Miller, PhD, Chief Science Officer for Healthy Directions, LLC, told us: “We can all appreciate that stress affects gastrointestinal function and similarly when your gut is disturbed your stress tolerance and sleep patterns may be impaired. Now researchers in a preclinical (rat) study have sought to explore those interactions with a novel approach. They used a diet that was enriched with prebiotics designed to maintain a healthy gut flora, and to explore the impact of stress on biorhythms, sleep patterns and the microbiome. The fundamental hypothesis was that by nurturing the good bacteria in the gut the negative impact of stress would be attenuated.

“The test diet - a mixture of prebiotics (GOS, polydextrose) & glycoproteins (lactoferrin, milk fat globule membrane) was given to young rats over a 50 day protocol. The diet was successful in raising levels Lactobacillus rhamnosus (friendly bacteria) four fold & maintaining a healthy & diverse gut microbiome, while promoting improved tolerance to the disrupting influence of stress on sleep patterns & biorhythms,”​ said Dr Miller.

“Bottom line: nurture your gut microbial community and it will look after you.”

Study details

A prebiotic is a selectively fermented ingredient that results in specific changes in the composition and/or activity of the gastrointestinal microbiota, thus conferring benefit(s) upon host health. (Gibson et al. 2010. Food Science and Technology Bulletin: Functional Foods,​ Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 1–19)

The researchers fed male F344 rats a diet with or without the additional prebiotic for 70 days starting at 24 days of age. On day 87, the animals received small electric shocks to were exposed to an acute stressor (electric shocks to their tails).

Results showed that rats fed the prebiotic diet were impacted less by the stressor, including increased REM sleep rebound, diminished disruption of the diurnal rhythm, and greater microbiota diversity, compared to rats fed the non-supplemented diet.

In addition, the prebiotic-fed animals had enhanced non-REM sleep, which was related to changes in one specific phylum of bacteria called Deferribacteres, ​said the researchers.

Direct and indirect effects

Sleeping © iStock michaeljung
© iStock/michaeljung

“Ingestion of prebiotics has been previously reported to increase several species of ​Lactobaccilli,” ​wrote the researchers. “Our results verify that ingestion of the test diet, compared to control diet, was effective at increasing ​L. rhamnosus. There are no previous studies, to our knowledge, testing the impact of prebiotics on sleep physiology; however, several studies have examined the impact of probiotics [with insistent results].”

“Thus, in light of our recent findings and previous work, it appears that administration of probiotics or modulation of the gut microbiota with a diet rich in prebiotics can impact [non-REM] sleep. Clearly, more research is necessary to better understand how prebiotics affect the gut microbiota and how this relates to the sleep/wake cycle.”

Lactoferrin, and milk fat globule membrane not only boost beneficial species in the gut, but they may also directly affect brain development and function, said the researchers, “although this possibility needs further testing and remains unknown”​.

Source: Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
2017, 10:240. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2016.00240
“Dietary Prebiotics and Bioactive Milk Fractions Improve NREM Sleep, Enhance REM Sleep Rebound and Attenuate the Stress-Induced Decrease in Diurnal Temperature and Gut Microbial Alpha Diversity”
Authors: R.S. Thompson et al. 

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