Stress and sleep problems in most students

Again, high school is an exciting time for students and their parents. This kind of hassle will become more common later on. Students also often experience stress during study and exam weeks, which sometimes leads to intestinal and sleeping problems.

Recent research by Yakult among more than 500 Dutch students (WO-HBO) shows that almost 60 percent suffer from stress. Of these, 73 percent suffer from sleep problems, 63 percent suffer from headaches and 35 percent suffer from intestinal problems.

Only 52 percent know it has to do with the gut-brain axis. The vast majority of students are unaware that improving gut health can help with stress (84 percent) and sleep problems (83 percent). 87 percent think that sleeping well helps against stress. 84 percent exercise/sport, 65 percent good nutrition and only 8 percent probiotics.

To combat sleep problems, 78 percent of students say exercise/sports, 64 percent say a healthy diet can help, 50 percent less alcohol and only 6 percent probiotics.

Yet 1 in 5 students do nothing to keep their intestines healthy. 60 percent eat healthy and 54 percent talk about sport/exercise. Good sleep (38 percent), less alcohol consumption (20 percent), regular intake of probiotics (15 percent) and nutritional supplements (15 percent) are also mentioned as activities to keep the intestines healthy.

At least 86 percent of the students know that intestinal bacteria are important for health. Just under half know that the gut microbiota (also known as gut flora) also plays a role in your mood and sleep quality. Therefore, especially during stressful times, students can reap the health benefits by paying extra attention to their gut health.

Second brain in the gut

Abdominal pain and insomnia that many people experience when under stress is caused by the interaction between the gut and the brain. The gut communicates with the brain through an extensive nervous system in your gut called the enteric nervous system (ENS). This ENS is also called the second brain. When the brain experiences stress or tension, the ENS diverts blood away from the abdomen. When this happens, you will feel a “knot in your stomach”.

The rich buildup of bacteria in your gut contributes to better, more restful sleep. But when your gut bacteria is on the backburner (such as when you take antibiotics or eat bad food), the relationship between your gut and brain is also compromised and your sleep can suffer.

But it also works the other way around. For example, if you wake up with things on your mind just before exams, it also affects the balance of the gut microbiota. It can even weaken your natural defenses. It can also lead to intestinal problems, poor sleep quality and sensitivity to colds. This situation coincides with the complaints of the students who participated in the study.


Previous research among medical students who drank a fermented milk drink containing lactic acid bacteria for 8 weeks showed that they slept better and experienced less stress than the control group who drank a placebo (non-probiotic drink).

Professor Robert Jan Brummer, professor of Gastroenterology: “There is a close cooperation between our brain and our intestines. In my current research I look at the relationship between nutrition, the microbiome, the gut and the brain. Because it would be great if you could, for example, ‘reduce’ stress or ‘improve’ your sleep by taking good care of your gut. Lifestyle is very important here. Remember to eat healthy, exercise enough and get enough rest. Probiotics can be a nice addition, as can our own research. But what works best differs per person.”

Our magazine Gut & Brain contains a complete interview with Professor Brummer. You can download it here for free. Also listen to the podcast we made earlier with professor Robert Jan Brummer below.

Source: Research conducted by Brand Meester and Dynata into sleep, stress and intestinal health among 524 college students commissioned by Yakult in March 2023.

Source: Health Net