Insomnia: Is Gut Pathological Testing Really Necessary?

“Pathological testing?  Is it really necessary if I experience insomnia?”

This is a question that I often get asked by my patients who are having trouble falling asleep and/or experiencing ongoing, intermittent awakenings.  However pathological testing, in particular gut pathological testing, can be one of the BEST WAYS to really drill down, and get to the root cause of why someone may be struggling to sleep well.

This is because our gut can affect our sleep, and vice versa.

Of course we know shift work itself plays a huge role in someone’s ability to acquire optimal sleep.

Let’s face it, there are many rosters out there that aren’t exactly “user-friendly” when it comes to getting good quality sleep!

However, shift work is just one piece of what can be a very complex puzzle in those experiencing insomnia.

One of the topics rarely discussed in most therapeutic sleep consultations is how the gut, or our gastrointestinal tract may be influencing our ability to sleep.  This is because many of our neurotransmitters such as GABA (which is a calming amino acid that is crucial for restorative deep sleep) and serotonin (which is the pre-cursor to melatonin, our ‘sleepy hormone’), are located in our gut, and form an integral role in the biochemical pathway to sleep.

Quite simply, the health of our gut plays a HUGE role when it comes to our ability to sleep, and sleep well.

This is because …

  • If there is an undiagnosed parasite infection (for example), it can lead to serious imbalances in the nervous system due to the depletion of GABA and serotonin levels, thereby potentially contributing to insomnia.
  • If there is an overgrowth of bad bacteria, candida, yeast growth and/or parasite infections it can lead to inflammation in the gut, which in turn can contribute to nutritional deficiencies and poor sleep.
  • When we have a good balance of beneficial bacteria in our gut, they are able to produce and regulate hormones and neurotransmitters that can keep you feeling calm and relaxed, which are absolutely necessary in order for restful sleep to occur.
  • When our gut contains a healthy balance of gut microbes they are also able to lower levels of cortisol, which is a stress hormone that can keep us awake by making us feel anxious.  Hello tossing and turning, and next-to-no sleep!

So depending on patient signs and symptoms, pathological testing such as a Complete Digestive Stool Analysis or CDSA, together with a Faecal PCR test (which tests for parasites) can be an excellent diagnostic tool (and investment) in patients with unresolved sleep issues.

After a comprehensive analysis of these tests is complete, a personalised treatment plan can then be put together which will help in the restoration of a healthy gut, which in turn, will lead to better quality sleep which is a wonderful thing for anyone working 24/7!

Audra x



Gottesmann, C 2002, ‘GABA mechanisms and sleep’, Neuroscience, vol. 111, no. 2, pp. 231-239.

Yano, J., Yu, K., Donaldson, G., Shastri, G., Ann, P., Ma, L., Nagler, C, Ismagilov, R, Mazmanian, S & Hsiao, E 2015, ‘Indigenous Bacteria from the Gut Microbiota Regulate Host Serotonin Biosynthesis’, Cell, vol. 163, no. 1, p. 264-276.

HSW 47 – Gut Health, Probiotics and Sleep with Dr Jason Hawrelak.

Healthy Shift Worker Podcast:

This week I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing one of the leading experts on gut health, Dr Jason Hawrelak who is a researcher, lecturer, naturopath, and nutritionist based in Hobart with over 17 years of clinical experience.

Whilst there’s an enormous amount of research on some of the damaging effects a poor diet has on our gut health (high saturated fats, low fibre, and high sugar), another less known factor is how sleep disruption can have negative implications on the state of our gut health too.

Given shift workers are prone to circadian rhythm disruption or a disruption to our sleep/wake cycle, what most people are unaware of is how this sleep disruption can actually disrupt the composition of our gut microbiota which can subsequently impair the lining of the digestive tract, leading to an increase in the permeability of the gut, otherwise known as “leaky gut”.

Dr Hawrelak goes into detail on some of the mechanisms behind this increase in intestinal permeability, along with discussing the difference between pre and probiotics; capsules versus powder; and when is the best time to take your probiotics in order to maximize their effectiveness.

Links mentioned on the podcast:

Probiotic Advisor

Goulds Natural Medicine Clinic

Nourishing Night Shift Jelly Cups!

These Nourishing Night Shift Jelly Cups are perfect for sensitive tummies that have to be up in the middle of the night, thanks to night shift.

In other words – anyone who has to work night shift, or those crazy early shifts starting at 4am or earlier!

What’s great about them?

  • These little jars of goodness contain gelatin which is made from cooking collagen, and is extremely high in protein.
  • It is the richest food source of the amino acid glycine, which can help to improve memory and attention – another struggle we face when having to be awake in the middle of the night!
  • Gelatin contains glutamic acid, which is converted to glutamine in the body which studies have shown can help to improve the integrity of the gut wall, and help to prevent “leaky gut”.
  • “Leaky gut” is something Shift Workers are quite prone too as sleep disruption can alter the delicate balance of the gut microbiome or microbiota, which can lead to intestinal permeability or “leaky gut”.  This phenomenon allows food particles to enter the bloodstream, triggering an immune response.


HSW 40 – Shift Work and Your Immune System.

Healthy Shift Worker Podcast Episode:

It’s currently winter here in Australia, and many of my clients are showing signs of being struck down by various things like colds and flu so today’s episode is going to be all about that – your immune system, and how shift work, or more specifically sleep deprivation impairs its ability to function as it should.

The link between lack of sleep and a depleted immune system has been shown in various studies including a Dutch cohort study involving more than 10,000 employees, many of which included shift workers. Results showed that shift workers, especially those working the night shift, had a much higher risk of infections such as colds, flu and gastroenteritis, compared to those working daytime shifts.

So that’s the bad news, but what can we do to build our resilience and prevent ourselves from getting sick in the first place, besides getting some much needed sleep?!

Well, there are a myriad of ways to support our immune system, but in this episode I focus on just three, including the importance of vitamins C and D3, along with nurturing our gut or gastrointestinal tract which is home to 80% of our immune system.

I also chat about the connection between diets high in processed and pre-packaged foods and gut dysbiosis, and how these foods can have detrimental effects on our immune regulating gut flora or microbiome. Quite simply, if your diet encompasses lots of processed foods, then you are quite literally contributing to the destruction of your immune system.

So if you’re sick and tired of getting sick all of the time, then you won’t want to miss this episode.

Audra x

Resources mentioned on the podcast

Professor Russel Foster’s TED Talk – Why Do We Sleep?

Dr Natasha Campbell’s book – Gut and Psychology Syndrome.

Stress, Gut Health and Shift Work:

What's the connection?

As a shift worker plagued by exhaustion, I’m pretty sure you will remember a time when you experienced digestive discomfort whether that’s in the form of bloating, stomach pain or nausea, and it was most likely during a night shift, or soon after getting up for an early shift.

But why is that?

Well its because lack of sleep or sleep disruption, is essentially a form of stress, and stress plays a huge role in digestion and bowel function.

Essentially nerves to the bowel get affected by stress, which can impair nutrient absorption leading to poor bowel function.

Whenever the body is under stress or faced with a stressful situation, (whether it be real or perceived as real) digestion no longer becomes a priority.  This leads to a reduction in gut motility or muscle contractions along the digestive tract; less saliva being produced in the mouth; along with a reduction in gastric acid secretion in the stomach which in turn, impairs the digestion of our food.