TL/DR: a prebiotic (not probiotic) called inulin can help you get more restful (and longer) sleep.


Most people will have heard the usual “rules” for getting better sleep – consistent bedtime and wake time, no devices for an hour or two before sleeping, no late snacks, no coffee after 3pm and so on. These have helped me, but other than making it easy for me to fall asleep, they haven’t improved the quality of my sleep.

Last year I caught the end of a Michael Mosley documentary The Truth About Sleep. At the end of the video (from 45.55min) he and some colleagues experiment with ways of improving sleep from meditation, warm bath, eating two kiwi fruit and taking a prebiotic.

The prebiotic was rated as 9/10 as a sleep aid. Take it an hour before going to sleep.

Don’t confuse prebiotics with probiotics which are found in yoghurts and the like. The difference is that probiotics are the good bacteria (in your gut) and prebiotics are like their food. Prebiotics, in particular, inulin, are what was being trialed (also don’t confuse it with the similarly named hormone, insulin, they are not related). Inulin is readily available from health food shops and online retailers. I was able to buy a pack by visiting the shopping centre near my work. From memory it was about AU$14 for the packet. I’ve since bought larger packs for ~AU$24 inc shipping.

The very first night I took it – I started with a third of a teaspoon – I had noticeably more dream filled sleep. Within a week I noticed I was much calmer overall and my mind didn’t race as much. I also slept longer, when sleeping past 6.30am wasn’t usually something I could do.

I finished the pack after a couple of months, and didn’t get around to replacing it as I was sleeping well (and had started long service leave which meant I was less stressed). That is until this year and all the complications it has wrought, made me need to get my sleep back under control. I ordered another pack (online) and have been back using inulin over the last month and once again I concur with Michael Mosley’s findings in his documentary. It has helped me get the mentally refreshing sleep I remember having as a child. An unexpected consequence is that I’ve stopped craving chocolate and coffee throughout the day like I used to – as though my sweet tooth has been turned off.

If I know I need to get up early for something, I stop taking inulin a two or three days beforehand and then have no trouble getting up at an earlier time. On the whole though, I find I naturally get an extra hour to ninety minutes sleep each night I take inulin.

I recently had some friends who are insomniacs try it with the same result. For them that was near miraculous.

Inulin is a cheap, readily available, safe (though like any food an allergic response is possible) and, in my opinion, an effective sleep aid. I’m not a doctor; this isn’t medical advice; see your doctor if symptoms persist.

I’ve since read some of the research on inulin (I’m a PhD student and have access to journal articles, links to research abstracts are at the end of this post).
Most studies have been done on rats, so take the following with a grain of salt.
Inulin supplementation has been found to:
– Increase the duration of sleep
– Increase the amount of REM sleep (the mentally refreshing sleep)
– Reduce sugar cravings (through improved sleep)
– Better memory of your dreams.
– Increase life expectancy (in rats when 10% of their lifelong diet is made up of it)1
– Improve cognitive performance and lower stress (in rats when taken for two weeks, at a significant dose)2
– Improve bone structure in lactating female rats3
– Improve intestinal flora with many positive consequences on things like digestion, cholesterol, bones and inflammation (many human studies)4
 
I am curious about other people’s experience supplementing with inulin. If you have tried it, please leave a comment below.
 
Other Notes
– Start with a small dose. The pack might say to work up to full teaspoons or even several teaspoons. I’ve never needed to use more than half a teaspoon. Using more just makes me gassy upon waking up and didn’t have any additional benefit in terms of sleep quality.
– This doesn’t help you get to sleep as it doesn’t make you drowsy, however, it will make you sleep longer and get more mentally refreshing sleep.
– It tastes good. It’s about one tenth to one third the sweetness of sugar. You can mix it with water, juice, milk or other drinks.
– It can cause intense dreams. If you have nightmares, it can make them worse (also worth noting if you’re going to give it to children). On the plus side, there is research evidence you will have better memory of your dreams while taking inulin.
– Commercial inulin is usually extracted from chicory or artichoke. I’ve only used ones extracted from artichoke.
– I found the zip pack started clumping due to the zip never quite working properly. I’ve since bought a small tub and that’s remained powdery, so I recommend that if possible.
– It helps my kids sleep in on the weekend, so we can too. 🙂

References
1Effects of lifelong intervention with an oligofructose-enriched inulin in rats on general health and lifespan
Rozan, Pascale ; Nejdi, Amine ; Hidalgo, Sophie ; Bisson, Jean-françois ; Desor, Didier ; Messaoudi, Michaël
British Journal of Nutrition, 2008, Vol.100(6), pp.1192-1199
DOI: 10.1017/S0007114508975607
https://monash.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/113cqvi/TN_cambridgeS0007114508975607

2Behavioural and cognitive effects of oligofructose-enriched inulin in rats
Messaoudi, Micha??l ; Rozan, Pascale ; Nejdi, Amine ; Hidalgo, Sophie ; Desor, Didier
British Journal of Nutrition, 2005, Vol.93(S1), pp.S27-S30
DOI: 10.1079/BJN20041348
https://monash.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/113cqvi/TN_cambridgeS0007114505000760

3Maternal Dietary Supplementation with Oligofructose-Enriched Inulin in Gestating/Lactating Rats Preserves Maternal Bone and Improves Bone Microarchitecture in Their Offspring.
Bueno-Vargas, Pilar ; Manzano, Manuel ; Diaz-Castro, Javier ; Lopez-Aliaga, Inmaculada ; Rueda, Ricardo ; Lopez-Pedrosa, Jose Maria
PLoS ONE, April 26, 2016, Vol.11(4)
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0154120
https://monash.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/113cqvi/TN_gale_ofa453426509

4Significance of Inulin Fructans in the Human Diet
Schaafsma, Gertjan ; Slavin, Joanne L.
Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, January 2015, Vol.14(1), pp.37-47
DOI: 10.1111/1541-4337.12119
https://monash.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/113cqvi/TN_wj10.1111/1541-4337.12119