Gut tweak can make anyone a ‘morning person,’ Israeli poop analysis suggests

Scientists examine mailed-in samples and find that early risers share gut bacteria pattern, hope to replicate it to help others get up with the larks

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

A young man who has difficulty getting up in the morning (iStock via Getty Images)
A young man who has difficulty getting up in the morning (iStock via Getty Images)

Scientists say that analyzing Israelis’ excrement has taught them how to wipe out our snooze-button habit, and make us all early birds.

In peer-reviewed research, they identified very different bacteria patterns in the guts of early risers and late sleepers, and say it opens the door to fixes that give everyone their desired sleep pattern.

The scientists from Haifa advertised for Israelis to take part in a “poop by post” program, which involved them catching a stool in a box and mailing it to their labs.

They waded through their malodorous mailbag, examined around 90 samples, and identified different “signatures” in gut bacteria that determine whether we are larks or owls, finding that the two have elevated levels of either alistipes or lachnospiraceae bacteria, respectively.

There has been some work to date suggesting a link between gut bacteria and sleep tendencies, but this study makes the clearest correlation, Dr. Naama Geva-Zatorsky of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, one of the researchers, told The Times of Israel.

The team behind the study, drawn from the Technion and the University of Haifa and led by Prof. Eran Tauber, wrote in a newly published journal article that its findings “may represent the first step toward developing dietary interventions.”

Illustration of the human microbiome (Design Cells via iStock by Getty Images)

“This research raises the possibility of changing our sleep tendencies by altering the microbiome, using probiotics, special molecules, or by changing diet. This could become a way to help larks or owls tune their bodies to change their sleep patterns,” Geva-Zatorsky said.

“It’s largely owls, who are frustrated at not being able to get up in the morning, who would change their patterns and this could potentially help them.”

Dr. Naama Geva-Zatorsky (Photo credit: Julien Chatelin, CAPA Pictures)
Dr. Naama Geva-Zatorsky (Julien Chatelin, CAPA Pictures)

She acknowledged it is possible that the microbiome differences result from sleep patterns and not vice versa, and said this will be checked in the next stage of research.

The research will also throw more light on connections between diet and microbiome. At this stage the data suggests a correlation between fatty foods and nocturnal tendencies and one between high-fiber diets and early rising. But Geva-Zatorsky cautioned against jumping to the conclusion that changing diets will alter sleep patterns.

She noted that night owls with high lachnospiraceae tend to eat more fatty foods while early risers with high alistipes tend to eat lower fat diets and more fiber. But she stressed that it’s unclear whether this causes the microbiome patterns and/or sleep patterns, or whether it’s a byproduct of a late-night lifestyle and/or the microbiome that goes with it.

A range of experiments now getting underway on mice will clarify the correlations, and will also allow the scientists to see exactly how changing the microbiome impacts sleep. “All of this brings closer the possibility that we can alter the inside of the gut to help people sleep and rise as they want,” said Geva-Zatorsky.

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