Sleep in on the weekend? According to a new study published in The European Journal of Nutrition, the delight of sleeping in may contribute the opposite of fun – an unhealthy gut microbiome

The study found multiple associations between social jet lag – the difference in sleep time between weekdays and weekends – and diet, inflammation and gut microbiome composition.

The gut microbiome consists of trillions of microorganisms of thousands of different species and is completely unique to each individual.

The organisms found in the microbiome include not only bacteria but fungi, parasites, and viruses.

In a healthy person, these “bugs” coexist peacefully, and are even labeled a supporting organ because they play many key roles in the complex, daily operations of the human body.

“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 seems 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. We need intervention trials to find out whether improving sleep time consistency can lead to beneficial changes in the gut microbiome and related health outcomes.”

Senior study author Dr Wendy Hall from King’s College London

The Health Cost of Social Jet Lag

Microbes can produce toxins or beneficial metabolites, while specific species of microbes can correspond to an individual’s risk of long-term health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

While previous studies into the association between social jet lag and metabolic risk factors have been done on people with obesity or diabetes, this cohort consisted of mainly lean and healthy individuals with most getting more than seven hours sleep per night throughout the week.

Researchers found that just a 90-minute difference in the timing of the midpoint of sleep – the halfway point between sleep time and wake-up time – is associated with differences in gut microbiome composition.

Having social jet lag is associated with lower overall diet quality, higher intakes of sugar-sweetened beverages, and lower intakes of fruits and nuts, which may directly influence the abundance of specific microbiota in the gut.

Three out of the six microbiota species more abundant in the social jet lag group have unfavourable associations with health.

These microbes are associated with poor diet quality, indicators of obesity and cardiometabolic health, and markers in your blood related to higher levels of inflammation and cardiovascular risk.

Previous research has found social jetlag is associated with weight gain, chronic illness and mental fatigue.

Stay tuned to The Health Insider as this topic develops.

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