Is a Leaky Gut to Blame for Your Insomnia?

by Martin Reed Patient Advocate

The terms, intestinal permeability and intestinal hyperpermeability might seem a bit foreign to some, but "leaky gut" is becoming a much more common household name for both of these conditions.

So what exactly happens when you have a leaky gut? Basically, it means that the area of the gut that controls what passes through your intestinal lining isn't working properly. The result is a heightened immune response, which can lead to a number of health issues, including sleep disturbance.

Why does a leaky gut harm sleep?

  • A leaky gut primarily affects sleep due to the consequent increase in inflammation and levels of cytokine (the inflammatory messengers). Studies have found that those who do not sleep well have higher cytokine levels than healthy sleepers and that elevated cytokines and chronic inflammation can in fact lead to insomnia.

  • In addition, the pain associated with inflammation (such as headaches, an upset stomach and even nerve pain) can further disrupt sleep.

  • Due to the effect a leaky gut can have on digestion and the body's immune response, higher cortisol levels are also common with this condition. The increase of this stress hormone throughout the body can make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.

What causes a leaky gut?A leaky gut is often a symptom of food sensitivity. It's important to note that food sensitivity is not the same as having a food allergy. Food allergies often cause an immediate reaction in the body, whereas food sensitivities can have a slower and more subtle effect that can linger for longer.

Do I have a leaky gut?** In addition to sleep disturbance, other symptoms of leaky gut include:**

  • Fatigue

  • Allergies such as asthma and eczema

  • Pain such as headaches, arthritis and even fibromyalgia

  • Digestive issues such as bloating, heartburn, and diarrhea

Blood tests can check for inflammation, but they can't necessarily diagnose a leaky gut. However, there are tests that are available to help detect certain food sensitivities. You can even get home testing kits that require a simple finger prick.

These testing kits will check for IgG antibodies to common foods so you can learn precisely which foods you may be sensitive to.

What to do if you have a leaky gut?** If you know which foods you are sensitive to, you can simply eliminate those foods from your diet. If you're unsure, you can remove common culprits such as:**

  • Sugar

  • Gluten

  • Alcohol

  • Red meat

  • Dairy products

  • Processed foods

  • Refined carbohydrates

You can also increase your consumption of foods that are thought to be anti-inflammatory, such as:

  • Fish

  • Berries

  • Olive oil

  • Leafy green vegetables

  • Tree nuts (no peanuts!)

If you feel that a leaky gut may be to blame for your insomnia, speak with your doctor. By directly treating the underlying cause of a leaky gut, the associated symptoms can be addressed relatively quickly.

If no underlying cause can be determined, a gastroenterologist trained in nutrition can help you come up with a diet plan to help reduce leaky gut symptoms and improve your sleep.

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Land’s free sleep training for insomnia. His online course will help you address your lack of sleep. Over 4,000 insomniacs have completed his course and 97 percent of graduates say they would recommend it to a friend.

Martin Reed
Meet Our Writer
Martin Reed

Martin is the creator of Insomnia Coach, an eight-week course that combines online sleep education with individual sleep coaching. His course helps clients improve their sleep so they can enjoy a better life with more energy and start each day feeling happy, healthy, rested, and refreshed. Martin also runs a free sleep training course that has helped over 5,000 insomniacs. He holds a master’s degree in health and wellness education and studied clinical sleep health at the University of Delaware.