Moves away from antibiotics and improving gut health are among the biggest trends in the poultry industry and look set to continue into 2017.

In human health, this year’s trend may be “clean sleeping,” as advocated by actress, singer and food writer Gwyneth Paltrow. Paltrow argues that we all need at least seven or eight hours of good, quality sleep – and ideally even 10.

She says sleep plays such a powerful role in determining appetite and energy levels and that it should be our first priority – even before thinking about diet. And no late-night feasting, as this can stop the body from doing what it has to do during sleeping hours.

While we all might like to stay young and beautiful, we don’t extend the same concern to our birds. However, there may well be a connection between Paltrow’s words of wisdom and the way chicken rearing is changing, even if the evidence comes not from the chicken industry but from research into human health.

Sleep and the microbiota

A small clinical study carried out at Uppsala University, Sweden, suggests that sleep alters the abundance of bacterial gut species that have previously been linked to compromised human metabolic health.

Changes in the composition and diversity of the gut microbiota have been associated with diseases, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes in humans. These diseases have also been linked to chronic sleep loss. However, it is not known whether sleep loss alters the gut microbiota in humans.

The study sought to investigate in nine healthy, normal-weight males whether restricting sleep to about four hours per night for two consecutive days, as compared with normal sleep conditions, would alter gut microbiota.

No change in the diversity of gut microbiota was found after sleep restriction, but this was somewhat expected given the short duration of the trial and small sample size. However, in more specific analyses of groups of bacteria, changes were seen paralleling those when obese subjects have been compared with normal-weight subjects in other studies, such as an increased ratio of Firmicutes and Bacteriodetes.

Time for change?

Day length – or night length – is already known to influence flock performance in several ways, but perhaps the various recommended routines need to be revisited in light of sleep’s possible influence on gut health.

Paltrow might have a thing or two to teach poultry producers, but I am not sure her dietary advice would be much welcomed, or whether the industry is ready to teach its flocks her meditation techniques that offer the benefits of sleep while still awake.

Nevertheless, a good night’s sleep is often seen as a stress buster and cure for a number of ills. And it may be the case that sleep may help to ameliorate some of the issues poultry producers are grappling with including how to improve gut health.

Sleep well!