Why IBD Affects Your Sleep

IBD Can Affect The Amount And The Quality Of Sleep You Get

You'd think sleep would come naturally, but it often doesn't. You may need to work at your sleep habits. Photo © winnond

It is no surprise to many people who have gastrointestinal disorders such as frequent heartburn, indigestion, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that their condition negatively impacts the quality and duration of their sleep. Sleep could be affected by symptoms of fever, pain, discomfort, or even frequent trips to the bathroom.

Amidst the complications and related conditions associated with gastrointestinal disorders, sleep may be overlooked.

However, sleep is a critical component of better overall health. Probably the number one factor in getting better sleep is to get control of the underlying disorder that is affecting sleep. However, practicing good sleep hygiene may also be helpful in achieving that elusive good night’s sleep.

IBD flare-ups are linked to a lack of sleep. Research has shown that getting poor quality sleep can be a predictor of a coming flare-up. IBD experts agree that sleep should be a priority, especially during a flare-up or when at risk for a flare-up.

Symptoms Of Insomnia

Sleep Disorders Guide Brandon Peters, MD defines the symptoms of insomnia as:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Difficulty staying asleep
  • Fatigue or daytime sleepiness
  • Poor attention or concentration
  • Mood changes (including worry or reduced motivation or energy)
  • Social or vocational dysfunction (including increased errors or accidents)
  • Tension, headache, or stomach symptoms

    Causes Of Insomnia

    Insomnia can have a variety of causes, including stress; depression; medication; poor eating habits; use of caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol; and lack of exercise. Stress and depression are not uncommon in people with chronic health conditions and can make both getting to sleep and staying asleep difficult.

    Side effects of medication, especially the steroids that are used to treat IBD, can adversely affect sleep.

    Eating too close to bedtime can contribute to nighttime heartburn, or as in the case of IBD, precipitate awakening to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants that can keep you awake. Exercise can tire the body and improve the quality of sleep. Alcohol initially causes drowsiness, but eventually leads to early awakening and disturbed sleep.

    Tips For Better Sleep

    Use these tips to practice good sleep hygiene and give yourself the best chance for a better night’s sleep:

    • Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, so schedule enough time for sleep into your day
    • If you are taking steroids, ask your physician about taking all your doses earlier in the day (such as before 4 p.m.)
    • Eat your last meal of the day earlier in the evening to prevent any symptoms of heartburn from waking you up
    • Monitor your caffeine intake and gradually reduce it if necessary
    • Stop smoking, not only to improve sleep but also to prevent worsening of Crohn’s disease and heartburn
    • Get some form of exercise every day, but be sure to do it at least 3 hours (preferably 5 or 6 hours) before bedtime to avoid being stimulated
    • Don’t use alcohol to induce sleep (it can actually cause you to wake prematurely), avoid drinking to excess, and avoid drinking for several hours before bedtime
    • Try relaxation techniques if you have trouble getting to sleep


    Belenky G. "Caffeine and Sleep." National Sleep Foundation 2013. 27 Mar 2014.

    National Sleep Foundation. "Diet, Exercise and Sleep." National Sleep Foundation 2013. 27 Mar 2014.

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