How Irregular Sleep Patterns Impact Your Gut Health: New Research Unveils Surprising Findings

August 28th, 2023

By Lily Anderson

Staff Writer for Wake Up World

In a revolutionary study published in The European Journal of Nutrition, researchers from King’s College London and ZOE, the personalized nutrition company, have unearthed a remarkable connection between irregular sleep patterns and the delicate balance of bacteria in our gut.

This ground breaking research is the first to reveal multiple associations between social jet lag and diet quality, habits, inflammation, and the composition of the gut microbiome in a single cohort.

The Impact of Social Jet Lag on Your Body Clock

Previous research has long highlighted the detrimental effects of shift work on the body clock, increasing the risk of weight gain, heart problems, and diabetes. However, the latest study delves even deeper into the realm of sleep patterns, shedding light on how minor inconsistencies in sleep timings can significantly affect our gut health. The shift in our internal body clock, commonly known as social jet lag, occurs when we experience changes in our sleep patterns between workdays and free days.

Small Changes, Big Implications: Unveiling the Research Findings

Dr. Wendy Hall, the senior author from King’s College London, emphasizes the significance of this study, stating, “We know that major disruptions in sleep, such as shift work, can have a profound impact on your health. This is the first study to show that even small differences in sleep timings across the week seem to be linked to differences in gut bacterial species. Some of these associations were linked to dietary differences, but our data also indicates that other, as yet unknown, factors may be involved.”

The research, conducted on a cohort of 934 individuals from the ZOE PREDICT study, the largest ongoing nutritional study of its kind, provides intriguing insights into the relationship between sleep and gut health. Remarkably, the participants in this study were mainly lean and healthy, with most getting more than seven hours of sleep per night throughout the week.

Sleep and the Gut Microbiome: A Complex Connection

The gut microbiome, comprising a diverse array of microbes in our digestive system, plays a crucial role in our overall health. These microbes can either positively or negatively influence our well-being by producing toxins or beneficial metabolites. Specific species of microbes have been found to correspond to an individual’s risk of developing long-term health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.


The composition of the gut microbiome is influenced by the food we consume, making it a dynamic and adjustable ecosystem. However, this research has uncovered that sleep patterns also significantly impact the diversity and balance of these gut microbes.

Unraveling the Association: The Gut-Sleep Link

The researchers meticulously analyzed blood, stool, and gut microbiome samples, along with glucose measurements, in individuals with irregular sleep patterns compared to those with a consistent sleep schedule. While previous studies had explored the link between social jet lag and metabolic risk factors, this particular cohort comprised mainly lean and healthy individuals, allowing for a fresh perspective on the subject.

The study’s findings are striking, with just a 90-minute difference in the midpoint of sleep (the halfway point between sleep time and wake-up time) showing significant associations with differences in gut microbiome composition.

Diet Quality and Social Jet Lag: A Close Connection

Social jet lag was found to be associated with lower overall diet quality, higher intakes of sugar-sweetened beverages, and lower intakes of fruits and nuts. These dietary habits directly influence the abundance of specific gut microbiota, linking sleep patterns to gut health.

The Alarming Findings: Unfavorable Gut Microbiota and Health

Of the six microbiota species found to be more abundant in the social jet lag group, three were associated with ‘unfavorable’ health outcomes. These microbes have been linked to poor diet quality, indicators of obesity and cardiometabolic health, and markers in the blood related to higher levels of inflammation and cardiovascular risk.

The Call to Action: Nurturing Your Gut through Better Sleep Habits

Dr. Kate Bermingham, the first author of the study and senior nutrition scientist at ZOE, emphasizes the significance of sleep as a pillar of health. She points out that even a 90-minute difference in the midpoint of sleep can encourage microbiota species that have unfavorable associations with health.

Dr. Sarah Berry, chief scientist at ZOE, echoes the importance of maintaining regular sleep patterns. She advises, “Maintaining regular sleep patterns, so when we go to bed and when we wake each day, is an easily adjustable lifestyle behavior we can all do, that may impact your health via your gut microbiome for the better.”

Conclusion: Embracing the Gut-Sleep Connection for Holistic Health

As the ground breaking research unravels the intricate link between sleep patterns and gut health, it becomes clear that nurturing our gut through better sleep habits is crucial for holistic well-being. Cultivating consistent sleep patterns and adopting a healthy diet can empower individuals to optimize their gut microbiome, promoting better health and vitality. This newfound understanding invites us to prioritize our sleep and embrace the symbiotic relationship between our slumber and gut health, ultimately fostering a healthier and more vibrant life.


  1. Kate M. Bermingham, Sophie Stensrud, Francesco Asnicar, Ana M. Valdes, Paul W. Franks, Jonathan Wolf, George Hadjigeorgiou, Richard Davies, Tim D. Spector, Nicola Segata, Sarah E. Berry, Wendy L. Hall. Exploring the relationship between social jetlag with gut microbial composition, diet and cardiometabolic health, in the ZOE PREDICT 1 cohort. European Journal of Nutrition, 2023; DOI: 10.1007/s00394-023-03204-x

About the author:

Lily Anderson is a passionate wordsmith and dedicated explorer of cutting-edge scientific inquiries. Fuelled by a thirst for knowledge, she skilfully transforms intricate ideas into relatable tales, inviting readers to embark on a captivating expedition of revelation. Lily’s efforts play a crucial role in bridging the gap between experts and the wider public, evoking a sense of awe and encouraging insightful discussions about groundbreaking scientific advancements.

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