Rest is hard. Let’s put that out there right away. Rest is not easy.
And yet rest is one of the best things for us.
You know how tired babies will cry and even though you know they need to sleep they will resist it with all their might. Then they finally lay down and wake up a happy baby.
We are all kind of like babies in that way. We resist rest even when we know it’s the thing that we really need.
Today we are diving into one of the principles that is part of The Mindful Gut™ Approach… rest and recharge.
Why rest is good for your gut
Rest is one of the most powerful things that we can do for our gut health. A lot of this has to do with the fact we have such a strong mind-gut connection.
How you feel mentally can affect you physically. But the opposite can also be said. How your gut feels physically can also impact us mentally.
Helps your gut microbiome
To be honest, I got lost in all this research, haha! It’s so interesting to review how the gut microbiome influences and is influenced by rest. This is the newest area of research so we still are learning a lot.
Sleep and the microbiome
Sleep is of particular importance when it comes to the gut microbiome and your microbiome may impact sleep.
For instance, a study in 2019 found that gut microbiome diversity is associated with our sleep (1). More specifically their results found that it’s your gut microbiome diversity that may encourage healthier sleep (1).
Then some studies are looking at connections between the gut microbiome, immune system, and our sleep patterns as we move from infancy to adulthood (2). As an example, when kids eat more omega-3s it has been shown to affect sleep. The idea is that since omega-3s increase microbiome diversity along with being anti-inflammatory and are associated with better sleep that it’s the microbiome that can influence the “sleep-wake cycle” (2).
Given that as many as 70 million people in the United States experience sleep disorders it will be exciting to see what other research comes out on the microbiome and sleep (3).
Fasting and the microbiome
How we eat may also be another way in which rest can impact our gut. More specifically this form of rest is either with periods of fasting and/or a time-restricted eating window.
Fasting has been practiced from the beginning of time and it’s a core cultural, religious, and spiritual practice for many. For others, people might be interested in fasting for gut benefits.
There is some emerging evidence that it may impact the gut microbiome and in turn affect metabolic and heart health (4, 5, 6). The shortcoming with these studies is that a lot of the data is from small studies with humans and more so from animal studies.
Would I recommend intermittent fasting (outside of cultural or religious reasons)? No, not necessarily. The research is so new and if even just thinking about restricting yourself to a specific time window to eat and/or periods of fasting makes you feel iffy then it’s not for you.
I would caution against prolonged periods of fasting if there is a history of eating disorders or chronic dieting. While there is some evidence that intermittent fasting may be helpful there are no long-term studies and periods of restriction can lead to binging.
Aids your digestion
Your digestion actually needs rest to do work. There are a couple of things we can do when it comes to rest aiding our digestion and they have to do with how we eat.
Migrating motor complex
Did you know that your gut has its own cleanup system? Yup, it does, and it’s called the migrating motor complex (MMC) and is stimulated by a hormone called motilin (7).
The MMC acts like a broom inside your digestive tract and it cleans up shop and only happens when you aren’t eating (a period of rest). When the MMC gets activated the muscles of your digestive tract will get stimulated and undigested food from the stomach gets pushed out along with bacteria getting transported from the small to the large intestine (7).
Your take-home message here is that you want to have pauses in between meals and snacks so you can give time for the MMC to activate.
Ps. You don’t have to be intermittent fasting for the MMC to work because it kicks in 2ish hour intervals (7).
Rest and digest
You have to be in rest mode to be in digest mode.
Rest is imperative to digest your food and which means when we are stressed, anxious, or thinking about the million things on our to-do list we won’t be able to digest food. In fact, when we are stressed blood gets shifted away from the digestive system (8).
Stress also has the ability to negatively impact the digestive tract.
Chronic stress may impact the permeability of your gut lining (9). This is what is often referred to as leaky gut. A lot of research is looking at how leaky gut or intestinal permeability may contribute to autoimmune conditions but this isn’t fully understood (9, 10).
Connect with your gut instinct
Rest is powerful on another level with your gut; rest can help you connect with your gut instinct. We all have gut feelings and rest can help you connect with those feelings.
Connect with yourself
Mindfulness is a form of rest that allows us to connect with ourselves. Mindfulness forces us to slow down and be present in the moment which can be very hard to do. A lot of the time we move quickly in this world and are reacting without being intentional.
Being intentional matters because it means we need to take some time to ask and see for ourselves what we are really wanting or needed. This is where it intersects with eating with intention and you can read more about that in its own blog post here.
What mindfulness can do is give us a moment of pause and it’s in that moment we can connect with ourselves. When we take that moment of pause you can check in with how you are feeling.
There are so many different studies and ways to incorporate mindfulness.
Mindfulness can even be used as a tool to help with digestive discomfort. There have been a few studies that have shown how mindfulness strategies can improve irritable bowel syndrome symptoms (11,12).
Be your best self
The “I just got back from vacation” feeling. Do I need to say more?
There’s a special energy we all have after a vacation after coming back from living our best life and that’s because of the rest we had. Rest gives space for you to be in the moment and be your best self.
Rest is a practice
Now that we know the science behind rest the next question is to figure out how to rest. Taking the time and space to rest is where the hard work begins.
There will be a follow up post with rest and recharge strategies for your gut health. Stay tuned! I will post the link here when it’s ready.
Amanda is a pizza loving registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in mindfulness and gut health. She quickly realized that gut health goes beyond the gut; it is also about honoring our gut feelings. She is the creator of The Mindful Gut™ which uses science and strategy to help people improve their gut health.