Prebiotics May Improve Sleep, Help with Stress

Woman too stressed to sleepPrebiotic fibers may improve sleep during and after times of stress, according to an animal study published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. The study looked at how prebiotics affected stressed rats. Although rat and human behavior and anatomy are not identical, research on humans often achieves results similar to previous research on rats.

Understanding Prebiotics

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that aid in digestion and other bodily functions. Most bacteria do not cause illness or disease, and some probiotics can even fight bacteria that do cause illness.

Prebiotics, which are found in food such as honey, whole grains, and artichokes, are food for probiotics. These carbohydrates can’t be digested. Some food, such as yogurt, contain both prebiotics and probiotics.

Can Prebiotics Help with Sleep and Stress?

The study followed 52 adult female rats. The rats were members of a genetic strain known as F344, with a predictable and consistent response to stress. All rats were kept in similar temperature-controlled environments to reduce the effects of environment on the animals’ reactions to stress.

Some rats ate their usual diet, but others ate a diet rich in prebiotics. During the experiment, researchers shocked half of the rats’ tails 100 times. The rats could not escape the shocks. Previous research suggests this stressful experience can induce depression and anxiety-like symptoms.

Tests revealed changes in the gut microbiome of rats who ate the prebiotic diet. This suggests prebiotics altered the presence of microbes, potentially producing other effects.

Rats who received the tail shocks experienced disruptions in rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep—a predictable consequence of stress and something humans also experience in response to stress. Rats who ate the prebiotic diet, however, regained healthy sleep patterns more quickly. Because of the link between stress and sleep, this could mean the rats also recovered more quickly from the stressful experience.

Shocked rats who ate their usual diet also showed disruptions in their gut microbiome. This points to a clear link between stress and gut bacteria, with stress altering gut bacteria and certain gut bacteria potentially mitigating the effects of stress.

While additional effects of prebiotics still need to be further researched, the study’s authors suggest better sleep and healthy gut bacteria could be benefits of prebiotics in humans.


  1. Thompson, R. S., Roller, R., Mika, A., Greenwood, B. N., Knight, R., Chichlowski, M., . . . Fleshner, M. (2017). Dietary prebiotics and bioactive milk fractions improve NREM sleep, enhance REM sleep rebound and attenuate the stress-induced decrease in diurnal temperature and gut microbial alpha diversity. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 10. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2016.00240
  2. Zeratsky, K., RD, LD. (2014, October 15). Are probiotics and prebiotics important for health? Retrieved from

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  • Walker


    March 5th, 2017 at 8:02 AM

    I love this!
    I have actually never heard of prebiotics, only probiotics so I love finding new things that I can research and get to know more about, especially things that will ultimately help me with my own journey toward healing and proper nutrition.
    And since I think that we have all seen lately from numerous studies just how beneficial simply getting a consistent good night’s rest each night can be, I am definitely upping my intake daily of these in my diet.

  • Michelle


    April 3rd, 2017 at 2:17 PM

    Prebiotics are something that everyone needs to incorporate into their life. Bonus! They help with sleep, too. Thanks for sharing!

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