Text: Sarah Schoch, Salome Kurth; Translation: Lea Arigoni
Our body is colonised by trillions of bacteria that interact with our health. The great diversity of bacteria in our gut gradually builds up in the first years of life. In our research we investigate whether there is a connection between the growth of gut bacteria and the sleep-wake rhythm in early childhood.
Our body is inhabited by at least as many bacteria (about 40 trillion) as we consist of human cells (1). Most of these bacteria are located in our gut, including over 1000 different species (2).
Gut bacteria contribute to our digestion, they can transform certain nutrients, such as cellulose (3), which we cannot digest, into other substances that we can then absorb. Interesting research in the last decade has also shown that gut bacteria influence our health. For example, gut bacteria have an impact on our immune system (4) and can protect us from other harmful bacteria (5).
Throughout life, gut bacteria undergo a process of development.
At birth, the newborn is colonised with the mother’s bacteria. Various factors influence the intestinal bacteria composition, e.g. the way of birth (6) or the intake of antibiotics. Other factors are food and diet. Gut bacteria are different between infants who are breastfed and infants who drink breast milk substitutes (7). Also stopping breastfeeding changes the composition of gut bacteria, so that it stepwise resembles the composition of adults (8). Adults show greater species diversity, more bacterial stability and fewer differences between individuals compared to babies, see Figure 1 (9).
Animal studies show that many of the intestinal bacteria undergo a daily rhythm (10).
Through experiments that cause a disturbance of the internal clock (i.e. a kind of “jet lag”), it was possible to manipulate these rhythms of the intestinal bacteria. In particular, an effect was found when animals ate a high-fat and high-sugar diet (11). Another study shows that disrupting sleep causes changes not only in the composition of gut bacteria, but also in their activity (12). In adults, novel studies report a link between gut bacteria and diurnal rhythms (13).
We are now exploring whether gut bacteria from babies are connected with the development of their sleep rhythm. This is an important piece of the puzzle to better understand the development of the sleep-wake cycle and to apply this knowledge to health promotion.
Photo by Derek Owens on Unsplash
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