What Is Going on in Your Gut?

What Is Going on in Your Gut?

The digestive system is a large group of organs working together to convert food into energy the body can use. Starting with the mouth and ending with the anus, the digestive system interacts with every other system in your body, working to maintain healthy levels of sugar in your blood and balanced hormone production and energy to help you keep up with a busy schedule.

The entire digestive process, from the moment food enters your mouth to the time elimination occurs, takes anywhere from 30 to 40 hours to complete. This raises the question: “Does the digestive system ever take a break?” More particularly, is food digesting while you’re sleeping? The short and easy answer to that question is “yes.” However, “why” and “how” are a bit more complex and far more interesting.

Circadian Rhythms are the physical, behavioral, and biological cycles your body follows in a day. This rhythm is triggered by the periods of daylight and darkness. Circadian rhythms not only affect humans but also impact most every living thing, from plants to tiny microbes. The body’s master biological clock is located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the hypothalamus portion of the brain. The SCN controls circadian rhythms.

Circadian rhythms keep your digestive system moving round the clock and control sleep patterns and eating behavior. Humans are unique in that in that they control their eat and sleep times, shifting these based on such criteria as convenience, work schedules, and diet patterns.

When eating, sleeping, or resting does not occur according to the circadian rhythms, cells get confused, and chemicals and hormones get released at the wrong time. Fatigue and disruption to the balance of the gut microbiome (dysbiosis) results. Despite all of the stressors and changes you force on your optimal circadian rhythm flow, your systems continue to function as best they can.

Sleep is a very important part of your body’s ability to function at optimal levels. During this time, your body has an opportunity to restore itself, repair tissue damage, and secrete the necessary horones for various processes in the body, including digestion. The sleep cycle has five stages, and your body cycles through all five stages every 80 to 110 minutes, with Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep time increasing with each cycle.

Throughout the day and during sleep, digestion is controlled and supported by the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems, which together make up the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS controls those bodily functions not directed consciously, meaning the bodily functions like breathing that happen without you having to think about them.

Non-REM sleep – when you aren’t dreaming – occurs when the parasympathetic nervous system is most active, stimulating the body to digest food. The sympathetic nervous system, which slows digestion, alternates with the parasympathetic during REM sleep. This balanced cycle continues through a night’s sleep, signaling your digestive system to react.

So, we’ve answered our question. The digestive system does function while you sleep with many factors and biological processes involved in making that happen. The time you go to sleep, how well you sleep during the night, and the cycling in and out of REM sleep all affect how well digestion occurs.

Proper rest not only restores the ability to be alert and refreshed, but also allows you to digest food and obtain the necessary vitamins and nutrients that lend themselves to the proper functioning of all of the organ systems. When in doubt, rest and digest!

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