First, what does it even mean to “heal your gut”? According to gastroenterologist and author Ali Rezaie, MD, it has to do with your gut microbiome. He added that what’s considered “healthy” is individualized, and that it’s a field that’s rapidly evolving. This info may be especially helpful for you if you have problems with digestion, blood sugar, low mood, or anxiety, BTW. (And according to gut microbiome researcher Nathan Price, MD, those issues may signal a gut imbalance.)
Experts In This Article
- Jillian Smith, RD, Jillian Smith, RDN, is the lead dietitian for GutPersonal. She specializes in functional medicine for the gut.
- Sara Mesilhy, MD, MRCP, Sara Mesilhy, MD, MRCP, is a gastroenterologist at ProbioticReviewGirl.
So, let’s talk about it: What are some gut-healthy habits to implement before hitting the hay that can keep your microbiome in great shape? Hint: Several have to do with sleep and calmness.
Gut-healthy habits to try before bed for optimal digestion
Gentle stretching or yoga
This is one of many ways to prepare your body (and therefore your gut) for relaxation. “Chronic stress can alter the balance of the gut microbiome, which plays a crucial role in digestive health,” says Jillian Smith, RDN, the lead dietitian for GutPersonal who specializes in functional medicine for the gut. “By reducing stress and promoting relaxation, you create a more favorable environment for beneficial gut bacteria to thrive.”
She says stretching and yoga can help with this. Need specific ideas? A couple examples of gentle yoga poses to try include child’s pose and tabletop pose.
A mug of herbal tea
If you like to sip something warm before bed, consider a caffeine-free herbal tea. Smith says this can soothe your nervous system. “When you calm the nervous system, you improve communication between the gut and the brain through the vagus nerve,” she adds. “This communication is vital for maintaining gut motility and proper digestive function.”
Getting some probiotics in
FYI, this is one you’ll ideally want to implement a bit before bed, aka before dinner, as probiotics are best taken before a meal. It can help with digestion.
“The gut is relatively inactive during the night. This allows the probiotics to stay longer in the gastrointestinal tract, promoting the growth of good bacteria and aiding in the healing of digestive issues,” says Sara Mesilhy, MD, MRCP, a gastroenterologist at ProbioticReviewGirl. You can even drink your probiotics with certain kombuchas, sodas, and yogurt drinks.
While meditation can be incorporated alongside yoga, it doesn’t have to be. Similar to yoga, though, it can be calming, therefore helping you sleep better. “Stress and anxiety activate the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, which can disrupt digestion and lead to issues like bloating, gas, and constipation,” Smith explains. Activities such as deep breathing, she says, can lower stress hormones and alleviate those side effects.
“Stress and anxiety activate the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response, which can disrupt digestion and lead to issues like bloating, gas, and constipation,” Smith explains.
At the same time, meditation isn’t necessarily the sole factor that affects your microbiome. In other words, consider keeping these other gut-healthy habits in mind, too.
Limiting screen time
Given that solid sleep is a vital part of maintaining a healthy gut, scrolling TikTok in bed—while all too tempting—may not be in your best interest. “Limiting screen time will help you fall asleep faster and experience more restful sleep, allowing your gut to repair and restore itself during the night,” Smith says.
She encourages dimming lights and avoiding all screens (phones, tablets, laptops, TVs, etc.) for at least an hour before bedtime. This reduces your exposure to blue light, she adds, which could otherwise interfere with your sleep.
A boost of magnesium
This is an additional tasty option to consider. Smith says 100 percent pure cacao powder, mixed with warm milk, is a great way to get this boost. Another option that’s perhaps easier: popping a magnesium supplement. “Magnesium helps calm the nervous system by activating neurotransmitters that relax the mind and body,” she explains. Hence, better sleep and better gut functioning.
Curtailing sugar, caffeine, and heavy meals before before bedtime
…Because all of the above can lead to acid reflux and heartburn, according to Dr. Mesilhy. “Consuming a large meal right before bedtime can be difficult to digest, leading to gastrointestinal distress, especially for individuals who already experience gastroesophageal reflux disease,” she says.
Feeling overwhelmed by all these tips? For what it’s worth, consider this: What’s great about these routines is they can easily be incorporated into your existing bedtime ritual. For example, you could drink herbal tea while reading in bed, or do some deep breathing exercises as you settle into the sheets. By habit stacking—or adding a new habit to an old one—in this way, you can ensure the sustainability and ease of these gut-happy practices.