Six Things That Impact Your Gut Motility
1. Sleep Schedule
According to research, sleep profoundly impacts gastrointestinal motility (6). The problem is that having an irregular sleeping schedule can make it more challenging for the digestive tract to pass the foods you eat. This is likely one reason some shift workers struggle to maintain regular bowel movements.
Travelling, caring for small kids, and working extra hours can also impact sleep and lead to gut motility issues. The best thing you can do is get at least seven hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Good things you can do to ensure better sleep include:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day
- Avoid caffeine within six to eight hours of going to bed (7)
- Invest some money in a quality mattress and pillow
- Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool (65 to 70 degrees F)
- Establish a simple pre-bed routine to relax – read a book, take a shower or bath, write in a journal, meditate, etc.
2. Alcohol Consumption
Small amounts of alcohol can be beneficial for many things. For example, data shows that the occasional drink can contribute to better insulin sensitivity, promote a blood triglyceride drop, and possibly improve cardiovascular health (8, 9, 10).
But, just as small amounts can be beneficial, excessive drinking can alter a person’s gut microbiota and increase the risk of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Also, some data shows stronger alcohols (15 percent or more) can impair gut motility (11). In contrast, small amounts of wine or beer can speed up motility (11).
So, aside from altering your gut microbiota, frequent alcohol consumption can speed up gut motility, increasing the risk of diarrhea and the associated drawbacks.
Unfortunately, many medications can significantly impact the gut microbiota, motility, and regular bowel movement. Antibiotics might have the most pronounced effect, given that treatment for a few days can result in reduced diversity that takes more than a month to improve (12).
Here is a list of medications known to slow down gut motility:
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Hypertension medications
- Antihistamines for allergies
And here is a list of medications that can accelerate gut motility:
- Metformin for type 2 diabetes
Certain drugs can be unavoidable, so it is essential to know how each can affect gut motility and do your best to optimize gut health through good nutrition, probiotic supplementation, regular exercise, and good sleep.
4. Stress Levels
Though the two might not seem related, psychological and gastrointestinal distress often go hand-in-hand (13). Various stressors can affect gut motility by impacting the nervous system, the body’s energy needs, and your gut microbiota.
Stressful periods can worsen your gut microbiota composition and reduce the diversity of helpful bacteria (14). Additionally, stress can magnify symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), resulting in poor digestion, diarrhea, and more (15).
Good stress management habits include exercising, meditating, spending time with positive people, going out in nature, and more (16, 17).
5. Sugar Intake
Moderate sugar consumption isn’t as bad as some health authorities claim, but regular consumption can impact your gut motility (18).
First, glucose and other simple sugars have an osmotic effect inside the gut. They pull water in and can lead to diarrhea and dehydration. Second, consuming a lot of sugar typically means eating processed junk foods frequently. Third, the habit is linked to reduced healthy gut bacteria, which can significantly impact gut motility (19).
6. Exercise Routine
According to guidelines, adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderately-intense exercise per week (20).
According to data, regular physical activity benefits gut health and food movement through your GI tract (21). In addition, exercise promotes healthy gut microbiota and ensures the proper functioning of the muscles and nerves involved in gut motility.
The good news is that most forms of exercise can work, and you don’t have to endure something you don’t enjoy. Biking, running, swimming, dancing, lifting weights, and hiking are just a few ways to move your body daily.
Still, it’s worth noting that too much exercise can harm gut motility. Overtraining is linked to digestive issues, loss of appetite, and diminished intestinal barrier function (22). Avoid pushing yourself too hard but make it a point to be active daily.