Understanding the link between gut health and sleep with nutritional therapist Sarah Williamson

Thanks to new findings in science and increased accessibility to research, our understanding of our overall health and its link to sleep has taken on a more holistic approach. This has led us to a conversation with nutritional therapist and WomenWise founder, Sarah Williamson, about the link between gut health and sleep.


Image of a cup of green matcha tea photographed with a sunrise in the background and pink flowers shown in the right corner.

Although the saying “you are what you eat” comes with a range of negative connotations, now’s perhaps the time we revaluate its meaning. Much of the recent research understanding our mental and physical wellbeing is drawing back to our gut and most importantly, the food we eat.


As an organ responsible for the production of one of our most crucial hormones – serotonin, a healthy gut has the ability to improve our lives tremendously. Known as the ‘feel-good’ chemical, it regulates our mood, allowing us to feel calmer and more relaxed. Furthermore, it’s also responsible for moving food through our digestive system, helping our bodies to rid of toxins. And perhaps most interestingly, the quality of our sleep is imminently linked to our body’s ability to produce serotonin.


A healthy gut and microbiome are key pillars of health. It’s important for the digestive system, but also our nervous system, immune system, and mental health.


Sarah Williamson, founder of WomenWise
An image of cut-up fresh plums on a grey concrete table
All imagery is by Nassima Rothacker from Chantelle’s book ‘PLANTED’
Image of Chantelle Nicholson's plant-based dish - poached plumbs with granola and plant-based yoghurt
Chantelle's recipe for poached plum and granola from her latest book. All imagery is by Nassima Rothacker from Chantelle’s book ‘PLANTED’

As we dive further into our conversation with Sarah Williamson, the correlation between our physical and mental health, ability to sleep and gut becomes more prominent. “There is a biochemical connection between our gut and our brain. Bacteria in the gut produce serotonin, which acts as a messenger in our nervous system. It is thought that 90% of serotonin in our body is made in the gut”, she explains.


Many who struggle with falling or staying asleep may be prescribed melatonin to assist in getting the rest they need. While this may provide some temporary relief, if our gut health is the reason for the lack of its production, we may see very little results from trying to reintroduce it without addressing the issue at hand – our diet. “Tryptophan-rich foods form the foundation blocks of serotonin and melatonin. Foods rich in tryptophan are turkey meat, chicken, eggs, wild-caught fish, beans, and Tofu. We also need foods rich in the B vitamins such as leafy greens, egg yolks and liver. Fermented foods and foods rich in fibre can help the gut bacteria produce B vitamins. If you follow a plant-based diet, you should supplement vitamin B12 as it is not available in adequate amounts in plant foods”, she advises.


Image of a woman enjoying her morning on a comfortable bed, dressed in white bed linen
Image credit: Savoir

 


While there are many signs of poor gut health, inability to sleep, irritable bowel syndrome symptoms and low mood are the key tell-tale signs that you may need to consult a specialist. Another key factor in good sleep quality is stress. The effects of it can have detrimental consequences on our health, both physical and mental. It’s important we take time to address our stress levels throughout the day and take adequate time to exercise, spend time in daylight and practice mindful routines.


“Stress can play havoc with our digestive health, so as well as watching what you eat, managing stress is important. Meditation and breathwork are brilliant techniques for rapidly reducing your stress response. Try a guided meditation before bed to relax”, Sarah adds.


A technique recommended by breathwork specialist Jamie Clements is the 4-7-8 method. As an all-natural way to calm our breathing and bodies, breathwork can very easily be adapted to busy lives. And because of its immediate effect on our mood and stress levels, you won’t find yourself short of motivation to continue this practice.


Inhale through the nose for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds and blow the exhale out of the mouth for 8 seconds. Repeat for as long as necessary.


Jamie Clements, founder The Breath Space

Our continued drive to unearth the true ingredients of a restorative night’s rest is what inspires conversations with some of the most esteemed individuals within the wellness industry. Sarah Williamson is a nutritional therapist with over 20 years of experience. As the founder of WomenWise, an organisation focused on helping provide women with the right support and guidance through menopause, she champions personalised health advice and individual approach.


Forget the recommended 8 hours of sleep - focus on quality instead

Join us in conversation with Harvard’s Sleep Scientist, Dr Rebecca Robbins, as she explains why focusing on quality instead of quantity of sleep can have a tremendous effect on our health and overall well-being.


Woman resting on a Savoir bed wearing cotton pyjamas, with the bed dressed in crisp white bed linen

Forget the eight hours of recommended sleep. Believe it or not, the quality of our sleep is as important, if not more so, than the quantity of sleep that we get.


Dr Rebecca Robbins

Savoir: Firstly, are there any tell-tale signs that we are not achieving quality sleep?


Dr Robbins: Even a well-rested person may experience tiredness in the afternoon. This fatigue is due to a drop in our body temperature between 1-5 pm. This is particularly evident for those not achieving quality sleep. So much so, that they will look for means such as coffee or other stimulants to keep them awake during these hours. And so, a sleep-deprived person will experience significant sluggishness and sleepiness in the afternoon. If you find yourself desperate for stimulants to maintain alertness, it is a sure sign you are not getting enough quality sleep at night.


Furthermore, research has shown that sleep loss reduces your VO2 max, the amount of oxygen your body can absorb during exercise, which fuels your workout. Inadequate sleep leaves us less motivated to exercise and less able to get a good workout when we do exercise.


As well as exercising, sleep can also impact appetite. When we are sleep deprived, the hormones that regulate our appetite are thrown off balance. Specifically, the hormone ‘leptin’ that tells the brain when we have had enough to eat is inhibited. This leaves us less able to understand when we have had enough to eat and therefore prone to overeating. You make may also make worse nutrition choices. When we are well-rested, we are more motivated to eat healthy meals. But when we are sleep-deprived, we are more likely to reach for sugary, carbohydrate-dense foods.


A woman resting on a Savoir bed dressed in crisp, all-white bed linen
Difficulty waking up can be a tell-tale sign of poor quality sleep. Dr Robbins explains why focusing on quality of sleep is the key to improving your productivity.

By focusing on getting good quality sleep, we can then focus on the constellation of sleep and things that improve our well-being. And believe it or not, good quality sleep starts as soon as we wake up.


Dr Rebecca Robbins

What role does circadian rhythm play in achieving quality sleep?


Our ability to fall asleep and obtain healthy sleep is, in part, governed by our internal circadian rhythm. This system evolves to understand when we should be alert and when we should be tired. If we keep our bedtimes consistent, our circadian rhythm becomes refined and well ‘trained’ in understanding when we are tired and awake.


If we keep different bed and wake times, then our internal clock is limited in knowing when we should be tired or awake. Leaving us in a constant state of disorientation. This is a recommendation we give our children. We stick to a consistent bedtime routines for them. However, we are guilty of not doing this ourselves. If you keep a consistent sleep schedule, you may find you fall asleep faster and spend less time tossing and turning.


Our haute-couture bed designed by interior designers Francis Sultana, upholstered in eye-catching green tweed with an elegantly curved headboard
The Louis bed designed by Francis Sultana and photographed by Michael Sinclair
Image showing the natural ingredients that make our iconic No2 mattress
Investing in high-quality mattress and bed can greatly improve the quality of your sleep.

Can you share some strategies to achieve quality sleep?


Believe it or not, a good night’s sleep starts when we wake up. If you are struggling with poor-quality sleep, these are my top three considerations. Firstly, try introducing a mindfulness-based practice. Meditation and Breathwork are about being present and at peace in the moment. Giving us the tools needed to control our breathing, which leads to a calmer mind and a relaxed body. These are the essential skills to help us fall asleep. Anyone who struggles to fall asleep and spends time tossing and turning may benefit from starting a mindfulness-based practice.


Secondly, alcohol consumed in small doses may help you fall asleep, but much more than that will dramatically reduce the quality of your sleep. Specifically, alcohol pulls you out of deeper stages of sleep, so that you may spend time sleeping but wake up not feeling refreshed.


And finally, stress is the number one cause of insomnia, and managing our emotions and stress is central to our ability to get healthy, restorative sleep. If you kick off a healthy exercise routine, you may also find you fall asleep faster, for exercise releases endorphins which are mood elevators. Not surprisingly, research shows that those who exercise regularly take less time to fall asleep and obtain more restorative sleep than those who do not.


 


Discover our latest video series, titled the ‘Sleep Wisdom‘, where Dr Rebecca Robbins helps us debunk common sleep myths, understand the science of sleep and more.


A guide to keeping cool while you sleep

Science indicates that temperature plays an integral role in the quality of your sleep. It’s essential that your body remains within a neutral temperature zone, to enjoy a restful night’s sleep.


Lady sleeping in a Savoir bed

Your body’s ability to regulate temperature is a big part of how it regulates sleep. During REM sleep the brain’s temperature-regulating cells switch off and your temperature is impacted by your bed and sleeping surface. At this stage of the sleep cycle, you may begin to sweat and overheat. If your bed and sleeping surface are unable to breathe and disperse moisture effectively, your body temperature may start to rise. Through keeping cool, sleep disturbances are reduced helping you to achieve a good night’s sleep. 


Natural materials such as wool and horse tail allow the sleeping surface to breathe and wick away moisture. This helps you to maintain an optimal, even temperature throughout the night. Synthetic fibres, such as latex and foams, can cause sweating as they are unable to breathe and tend to retain heat. 


From the perfect bedding for warm nights to a sleeping surface with an abundance of natural materials, we’ve compiled our guide to help you keep cool and enjoy restorative sleep.


In a warm sleep environment, we are more likely to have nightmares. We may also experience sleep fragmentation. So, at night we optimally want to be in a thermal neutral zone, which is on the slightly cooler side.


Dr Rebecca Robbins
Image of cotton buds and leaves
Image Credit: right: stock image, Left: detail image of The Reformer Bed photographed by Alexander James for Savoir.
A close-up image of the world's first luxury plant-based bed, The Reformer

Natural Materials

Choosing natural materials for your bedding and pyjamas will help regulate your body’s temperature, resulting in a deeper, relaxing sleep. Silk, linen, and cashmere are summer-time classics, thanks to their soft and light texture. Whilst wool and horse tail may not spring to mind when it comes to keeping cool, these natural fibres boast wonderful moisture-wicking properties to help regulate your body temperature.


To immediately change to a natural sleeping surface a topper is a great solution. Filled with an abundance of naturally breathable materials, toppers can instantly elevate your summer sleep. A mattress protector is an element of bedding that is often overlooked during the warmer months. However, a climate control mattress protector continues to help breathability, whilst helping to keep the sleeping surface clean and dry. Ours is filled with Tencel fibres which disperse moisture and keep it away from the skin to help combat overheating, allowing you to keep cool. It can also be machine washed to ensure it stays soft and fresh.


Bedding

Every element of your bedding should help regulate your temperature. If goose down is your preference, choose a lower tog such as 4.5 for during warmer months, and opt for a higher tog in the winter. A natural down duvet controls your body’s temperature wonderfully, making it a great choice all year round.  


An alternative to down is a pure silk duvet. The super soft natural fibres help to efficiently wick moisture away from your skin, preventing you from overheating. Our silk duvet is also encased in a soft Tencel fabric cover, making it perfect for balmy summer nights. 


Ensuring your bedding fits the season is key. Switching your winter bedding to a lighter weight or different material will make a big difference to your sleep in the summer. Whilst upgrading to a higher tog will ensure you’re comfortable during the colder months. 


A good choice of bed linen for the warmer months is percale cotton. High-quality percale combines extra-long staple fibres and high thread count to create the perfect balance of breathability and softness. For an ultra-lightweight and super soft feel, choose Giza cotton, which has the longest and finest fibres available. The Drift collection is available in both a 400 thread count and an ultra-fine Giza 87 cotton. 


Luxuriously cool

Climate Control Mattress Protector StrapsClimate control mattress protector

Luxury Climate Control Mattress Protector

100% Tencel

$151.67 to $330.42 View
Savoir PERCALE 400 Thread Count Bed LinenThe Drift bed linen set

The Drift Pure Cotton Percale Bed Linen Set

400 Thread Count

Oxford, Plain hem
$487.50 to $985.83 View
Duvet - Pure SilkPure Silk Duvet

Luxury Pure Silk Duvet

100% Natural Silk

$612.08 to $1,467.92 View
Closeup of vegan topperSAVOIR VEGAN BED TOPPER

CFv Topper

Vegan Topper

  View

Airflow

If the temperature of your bedroom or sleep environment rises above 23.8°C (75°F) it can disturb your sleep and may even wake you. To keep the temperature down on extremely hot days, it may help to reduce the hot air and sunlight that enters the space during the day. By keeping certain doors and windows shut with blinds and curtains closed, to help prevent the room from warming up during the day. When the temperature drops, the evening breeze and cooling night air can then enter the space. 


Pyjamas

Cotton pyjamas are a classic bed attire for every season. They offer great breathability and help to combat overheating during warmer weather. If you prefer a softer feel, silk is a wonderful alternative. Super soft on your skin, the natural silk fibres wick away moisture whilst you sleep, maintaining your normal body temperature.


By keeping cool and minimising disturbances you can enjoy a restful night’s sleep, on the warmest and the coldest of nights. 


Taryn Toomey enjoying a slow, minfdul stretch
Taking time to unwind before bed can have an incredible impact on the quality of your rest, even during the warmest of nights.

Mindful moments

The hours leading up to your bedtime are the most crucial for a restful night’s sleep. Getting into a habit of avoiding technology and blue light will allow your brain to prepare for rest. Meditation and yoga are also proven to help us relax and put our mind at ease. And if you need some extra help, try burning essential oils to create a calming atmosphere in your bedroom.


There are specific natural fragrances that when burned can help improve air quality. Eucalyptus is especially great during the summer months, as it is known to open up air pathways and cleanse high traffic spaces, which is especially helpful for those struggling with seasonal allergies and hay fever.


And lastly, if you find yourself tossing and turning, allow yourself to reset by leaving your bed completely for at least 15 minutes. In that time focus on a very simple, relaxing task like reading a few pages from your favourite book or doing a gentle stretch. This will stop you from associating your bed with restlessness and unwanted thoughts, and instead will help your mind perceive it again as a peaceful place of rest.