CU Boulder Study: Prebiotics could help with sleep and stress

Foods like apple skins, chicory root and asparagus
Posted at 2:05 PM, Mar 30, 2017

We all know there's a connection between food and mood. Recently, University of Colorado Boulder researchers found something specific in the diet, prebiotics, could improve our sleep and stress levels. Now their findings could lead to the development of sleep improving supplements for military members, and the general public.

Prebiotics, not to be confused with probiotics, are found in the non-digestable fibers in fruits and vegetables. Researchers in CU's Department of Integrative Physiology studied the effects of prebiotic supplements on rats. They found that rats on the prebiotic diet spent more time in non-REM sleep, which is restful and restorative.

"During your stressful times that’s when you need your sleep the most and that’s when your sleep is so messed up," said Monika Fleshner, a CU Boulder Professor and researcher. "If something like a nutrient like this that you would take along with your multi vitamin would help you buffer that, it would be a great."

Fleshner says prebiotics are found in foods like apple skins, artichokes, asparagus and chicory root. But to get the full benefit, you would have to eat too much. A prebiotic supplement could deliver a better dose, but Fleshner says it's still too early to recommend a specific regimen.

"We're just starting now to test combinations of these nutrients in people. There are a few stuides out there where people have demonstrated positive effects similar to what we've seen in our animals, but what I think we still don't know is anything about proportions, combinations," says Fleshner.

U.S. Military interested in the research

The U.S. military is interested in their work. The Office of Naval Research is looking for ways to reduce the impact of negative stressors on naval officers. Men and women serving in the military are often chronically sleep deprived, which can lead to worse stress management. The University of Colorado is working with researchers from Northwestern and the University of California San Diego to study possible treatments. Prebiotics may be one answer.

"The idea would be if you could give these kinds of supplements to our military personnel that would facilitate or protect the good bacteria in their gut, [it could] promote better sleep during times of stress," says Fleshner.

The studywas published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.