The Bathroom Dream

Your IBD May Even Affect What You Dream About At Night

Sleep is important, but it can be hard to come by if your dreams about IBD are keeping you awake. Photo © winnond

People with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may have frequent dreams about the signs and symptoms of their disease. Some of these dreams may even take the forms of nightmares, particularly in the first days and months after diagnosis, or before a diagnostic test or surgery.

Dreaming Of Searching Or Of Death

There are typically two main themes to these dreams. The first is the dream of searching for a restroom while being in great need and being unable to find one.

In the dream, there is no available restroom in the vicinity. If there is a toilet, it is unusable because it is dirty, overcrowded, or not properly equipped (it could be missing doors or without toilet paper).

Another common theme is one of being gravely ill or even dying. The illness may be focused on the abdomen or the bowels or be less specific in nature like a fever or an overall unhealthy feeling.

How Can We Interpret the Bathroom Dream?

Much has been written about the interpretation of dreams. The toilet may symbolize elimination of an idea or a thing, or of expressing hidden emotions. Searching in a dream can represent unresolved trauma or the need to find something that is missing from life. Death or dying in a dream can be an indication of change.

In the case of someone who has a chronic intestinal disorder, the dream may be taken quite literally. It's not uncommon for someone with a serious illness to dream about that illness or the body parts that it affects.

If dreams are, as some suggest, the way that the mind cleanses itself, it could even be that the subconscious is struggling to deal with the illness.

For many, not being able to find a usable toilet when in desperate need of one is a constant worry. It would not be surprising, then, to have that worry carry over into a dream or even a nightmare.

Add some mood-altering medication such as prednisone to the equation and the result can be an unpleasant night of dreams.

Waking during the night to move the bowels or because of pain and discomfort can further compound the issue of having unpleasant dreams. During a flare-up, waking in the night to use the toilet may not be avoidable. However, during times of remission, not eating before bed, sticking to a good diet, and maintaining a regular medication schedule may help reduce symptoms at night.

Preparing For Better Sleep

Practicing good sleep hygiene can go a long way towards getting a better night's sleep. Use these tips to sleep more soundly:

  • Don't eat a heavy meal before retiring
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol
  • Take exercise early in the day
  • Work on lowering stress levels

It's possible for dreams to be very troubling and seriously disrupt sleep. People who feel their dreams are keeping them from getting any rest should seek a qualified health professional.


Lal S, Whorwell PJ. "What do patients with irritable bowel syndrome dream about? A comparison with inflammatory bowel disease." Dig Liver Dis 2002 34:506-509. 

Vege SS, Locke GR 3rd, Weaver AL, Farmer SA, Melton LJ 3rd, Talley NJ. "Functional gastrointestinal disorders among people with sleep disturbances: a population-based study." Mayo Clin Proc 2004 79:1501-1506.