Digestive Disorders and Sleep Disturbance

The mattress is not always to blame for “That Gut Feeling.”


Can probiotics be part of the solution?

Digestive disorders are a real threat to health. Not only do they damage the colon and the small intestine, and are a contributing factor in colon cancer, they are also a further threat to health by disturbing sleep. Medical research is discovering more about the role of probiotic micro-organisms, not only in digestion, but as part of the immune system. As such, they have the potential of improving sleep.

Getting Needed Sleep

It is well known that a good night’s sleep is important to a good day, and that it is also an important factor for good health. During the nightly series (daily for night workers) of sleep cycles, we are recharged both mentally and physically. Research studies in sleep science and sleep medicine have identified and described the several cycles of sleep, their duration, and what they do. We adult humans need, on the average, from six to eight hours of sleep per 24-hour day. There are different ranges of required sleep time for stages of development, such as newborn infants sleeping more than half the day. There are exceptions at both ends of the ranges, people who need more or less than the average amount of sleep. With today’s busy lifestyles, getting enough time to sleep can be a challenge. But when we have the time, we do not always sleep enough or sleep well. This website is dedicated to the role of the mattress and the pillow in healthful sleep. However, sometimes they are not enough.


Sleep Disturbances


For many people, back pain, neck pain, and joint discomfort interfere with restful sleep. And many others suffer from arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other causes of chronic neuromuscular and skeletal pain. For these cases, we have shown how mattresses can relieve the pain, especially memory foam mattresses and memory foam/latex hybrid mattresses, especially with the right size and shape of memory foam pillow.

Breathing Problems

Another major cause of poor sleep is breathing problems, ranging from nasal allergies to sleep apnea. Here the pillow plays a large role, since it determines the position of the head. Adjustable beds may also be included in the solution, because they can elevate the entire upper body.

Digestive Disorders

But for many others, “that gut feeling” (gastric/intestinal discomfort) is the sleep robber. This is not just one thing. There are several types of gastric and intestinal disturbances that can bother us, both when asleep and when awake. More than a grumble and a rumble, it is often pressure and pain. Sometimes a bed can address the symptoms of a digestive disorder, though it would be better to address the cause. However, until the cause is dealt with, symptoms do need treatment.

Acid Reflux

One common gastric disorder is acid reflux. This is often the result of a hiatal hernia, when the upper end of the stomach pushes through the opening for the esophagus in the diaphragm. Since this is worse when the person is lying flat, several adjustable beds have a setting that raises the upper body and head enough to make the acid reflux less likely. For example, Flex-A-Bed lists acid reflux as one of the ailments whose symptoms are relieved by their beds. Since memory foam and latex mattresses are the most compatible with adjustable beds, they would be the natural choice in this case.

Other Digestive Disorders

However, there are conditions of the digestive tract which are not addressed easily – if at all – by the mattress, the pillow, or the bed. A few of these are celiac disease (CD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), leaky gut (LG), lactose intolerance (LI), and gluten intolerance (GI). A mattress, the pillows, and an adjustable bed can be combined with changes in sleeping positions to make one as comfortable as possible, but many times there is no way to be comfortable enough to fully rest. The pain or discomfort just will not cease. In cases like this, “that gut feeling” is not caused by the mattress, and cannot be relieved by the mattress. The mattress is not to blame. The digestive system, especially the intestines, must be treated directly. The disorders named in the previous paragraph are, in some cases, related in cause, and in many ways can be treated together. When the intestinal disorder is taken care of, then we can address other issues with our mattress.

Treatment of Digestive Disorders

Most healthcare professionals still rely largely on drugs and surgery to treat physiological disorders, including in the digestive tract. There are risks to surgery and side effects to drugs. And these measures are expensive, too. However, many healthcare professionals are turning to probiotics, which are safer and less expensive, and they can prevent as well as treat digestive disorders.


The Alternative Treatment – Probiotics

Probiotics has become a buzzword among nutritionists. In recent years, there has been increasing emphasis on their nutritional role in digesting our food, manufacturing nutrients (such as B vitamins), and cleaning our gut so we can better absorb foods. These symbiotic micro-organisms (also known as flora) are also part of our immune system, and they protect the intestines. There are many species of micro-organisms known to be probiotic. And more are recognized as such as research continues. Most of them are members of four genera of bacteria and one genus of yeast: Bacillus, Bifidobacterium (Bifidus), Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, and Saccharomyces*. Of the bacterial genera, all but Lactobacillus have harmful species, and the two yeast species, S. boulardii and S. cerevisiae are closely related to baker’s yeast and brewer’s yeast. The most commonly recognized probiotic species is L. acidophilus, which for decades has been added to milk to pre-digest the lactose (milk sugar). But acidophilus alone is far from enough for good health.

Results of Probiotic Research

Concerns about lactose intolerance and gluten intolerance have led to widespread production of non-lactose and non-gluten products. This has become a big money segment of the food processing industry, with items such as almond milk and gluten-free bread. But is it enough just to avoid gluten and lactose?

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance has long been recognized as an inherited trait, more prevalent in certain racial, ethnic and family lines. This is the inability to digest lactose. More than 100 years ago, scientists discovered that L. acidophilus, the bacterium that turned milk into yogurt, also helped digestion in human intestines. Sometime in the 20th Century, a variety of acidophilus was added to fresh milk so people with lactose intolerance could drink it. When a live culture of acidophilus is ingested and a colony is established, it will digest lactose in the milk a person drinks. There are other benefits to L. acidophilus. It helps the intestinal lining to assimilate Vitamin K, B vitamins, and calcium, as well as to inhibit Candida yeast infections.

Gluten Intolerance

Leaky Gut Syndrome and Celiac Disease are two manifestations with the same root cause: gluten intolerance. Here is how Kristen Michaelis describes it:

Basically, undigested gluten proteins (prevalent in wheat and other grains) hang out in your intestines and are treated by your body like a foreign invader, irritating your gut and flattening the microvilli along the small intestine wall. Without those microvilli, you have considerably less surface area with which to absorb the nutrients from your food. This leads sufferers to experience symptoms of malabsorption, including chronic fatigue, neurological disorders, nutrient deficiencies, anemia, nausea, skin rashes, depression, and more.

The culprit in gluten intolerance is a part of the gluten molecule, a peptide sequence called gliadin. Unless it is broken down in digestion, it triggers an immune response that damages part of the intestinal lining, the little, hair-fine fingers (microvilli) that increase the area for absorption of nutrients. This not only reduces the absorbing surface area; it makes the lining and the wall thin and more permeable, a condition called Leaky Gut. The auto-immune reaction also triggers inflammation, Celiac Disease, and can be a factor in Irritable Bowel Syndrome A number studies with control groups and groups using different species show that some probiotics will break down gluten and gliadin so that they do not trigger LG and CD (two of these are by Lindfors, Blomqvist, Juuti-Uusitalo, Stenman, Venäläinen, Mäki, Kaukinen  and by Aragon, Graham, Borum, Doman). Broadly, some probiotic species are more effective than others in digesting gluten. More specifically, the best results are from Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus fermentum. Besides breaking down the gliadin peptide in gluten, they also heal the intestinal mucosa. This brings up the question of how did gluten intolerance arise in the first place? And how has it become more prevalent today? Most online sources state that it is inherited genetically, since it runs in families. However, some of these same sources refer to statistics showing that only one in ten in one of these families has gluten intolerance, so if it is genetic, several genes would be involved.

Other possible explanations besides genetic for the family connection.

1. The culture of probiotic intestinal flora is transferred to the newborn child from the mother. In normal birth, the emerging baby is exposed to the mother’s vaginal culture, which includes several of the same species that are in the gut, including B. lactis, the gluten-digesting microbe.In an article in the Clinics in Perinatology Journal, Cesarean versus Vaginal Delivery: Long term infant outcomes and the Hygiene Hypothesis, Josef Neu and Jona Rushing cited research showing that cesarean birth is associated with a higher incidence of celiac disease. This indicates that these infants tend to be deficient in B. lactis and other probiotic microbe species which digest gluten. The increased rate of cesarean delivery versus vaginal birth in recent decades may play a role in the increase of gluten intolerance.

2. The same article states that infants build their intestinal culture during the first year of life. Studies show that at the end of this first year, the child’s intestinal microbial population is the same as adults in the family, indicating that probiotics are inherited environmentally.

3. Medical professionals are now more widely recognizing the threat of antibiotics to intestinal health. For example, a physician prescribing Cipro® for C. diff. told the patient to take a probiotic supplement two hours after taking the antibiotic, because “Cipro kills off all the good stuff, too.” Killing the Bifidobacteria species destroys the ability to digest not only gluten, but other components in food. If these beneficial bacteria have not been restored in a family after taking antibiotics, they are not there to be passed on to the newborn.

4. Consumption of foods with a broad spectrum of live probiotic cultures and/or use of probiotic supplements varies from family to family. Most people tend to generally follow the dietary habits of their families and communities. One should expect levels of probiotic intestinal cultures to be affected by dietary patterns. Thus, the ability to digest gluten can be inherited behaviorally.

Psychosomatic Interaction

One cause of gastric and intestinal distress is the psychosomatic interaction – mind and body. An old saying is, “It’s not what you eat, but what eats you.” Stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue – all play a role in how we feel internally, whether we have that gut feeling of being tied in knots. Worry itself can keep us awake, unable to relax. According to Aragon, Graham, Borum, and Doman (cited above), “Psychological factors have long been known to exacerbate symptoms of patients with known IBS.” Bifidobacteria minimized and repaired damage to the intestinal mucosa.  Other studies seem to suggest that certain probiotic strains can actually stimulate production of serotonin, although this is not definitely shown.



That gut feeling can keep persons awake or degrade their sleep. Sometimes it can be ameliorated by making the sleeper more comfortable, such using conforming memory foam to reduce pressure on the abdomen, or using an adjustable bed to prevent acid reflux. But these only treat symptoms. Intestinal discomfort and pain are not caused by the mattress. Most commonly, it is what we eat, how we eat it, and how we digest it that determines how our belly feels. In this, our intestinal flora play a major role. Foods with live probiotic cultures and probiotic supplements may both prevent and treat many intestinal disorders, such as celiac disorder and irritable bowel syndrome.