How to Sleep Well With IBD
Medically Reviewed by Ayanna Lewis, MD
When you have irritable bowel disease (IBD), which can include ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, symptoms like diarrhea and abdominal pain can get in the way of restful sleep. And when you don't get restful sleep, you may notice that those troubling symptoms of IBD appear to worsen.
A recent report found that poor sleep has been independently linked to depression and poorer IBD-related quality of life, which is understandable since adequate sleep is necessary for normal brain function, proper emotional stability and overall physical health.
To help break this bad-sleep cycle, here are some tips that will help you get the rest you need.
Find a med that works well for you
The goal of IBD treatment is to reduce the inflammation that triggers your signs and symptoms. That's why you want to work with your health care team to find medication(s) that works right for you during the day and at night. The medication you take depends on the area of your colon that's affected. Medications can control inflammation as well as other symptoms like pain, intestinal bleeding or diarrhea. Sometimes combinations of medications that act both throughout the body and locally on the intestines can help to improve your overall symptom control.
Don't take long naps. Yes, a short power nap can be rejuvenating and help you relax, reduce fatigue and increase mental alertness. But if you sleep longer than 30 minutes, you can feel groggy, and it can be difficult for you to fall asleep at bedtime.
Fend off night sweats
Night sweats can interrupt your sleep. Maintain a comfortable bedroom temperature. Use air conditioning or a fan or open a window if you don't already do so. Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, cotton pajamas (if you wear pajamas). Use layered bedding that can be removed if necessary.
Caffeine intake can irritate IBD symptoms and prevent sleep. Know your limits; some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. Up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day appears to be safe for most adults, according to the Mayo Clinic. How much is that? It's about the amount of caffeine in four cups of brewed coffee, 10 cans of cola or two "energy shot" drinks. (Note that the actual caffeine content in beverages varies widely.)
Step outdoors. Even a few minutes of sunshine can help adjust your circadian rhythm, which involves physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle. It's important to expose yourself to sunlight in the morning.
It's not surprising that we're a little sleepy after drinking beer, wine or spirits. In fact, as many as 20 percent of Americans use alcohol to help them fall sleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. While that nightcap before bed can help you fall asleep faster, you'll be left with poor quality shut-eye. It may not be a smart way to help you nod off and get solid slumber after all. You mess with your circadian rhythm. You won't get enough REM sleep. And you make extra bathroom trips.
Watch your nighttime eating
Eat larger meals earlier in the day when digestion is easiest. Aim to stop eating at least one to two hours before bedtime. If you must have a snack before bed, look to easily digestible foods like bananas or kiwis. Avoid spicy, fried or heavy meals, which are harder to digest.
Shut off electronics
Put away your phone, tablet or computer and turn off the TV at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Sixty minutes is ideal, but 30 minutes is more practical for most. Electronics' high-intensity lights arouse the brain and may prevent slumber. Before bed, you can do light reading with traditional books, practice meditation or listen to relaxing music.
By staying active throughout the day, your body tires out and will be in need of rest. Aim to exercise at least three hours before bedtime. Since working out gives you an energy boost, your body needs time to recover.
Being anxious or stressed before bed will only make matters worse for your IBD and sleep. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation and yoga can help your body relax and may ease pain. If you're meditating, focus on breathing. Repeat a word or phrase; repetition can be soothing for the mind and body. Or try deep breathing, which can wake up, energize, balance and relax you.
Since the nicotine in cigarettes and e-cigarettes is a stimulant, it can make it difficult to fall asleep. It also worsens heartburn, which can interfere with sleep. Research also suggests that smoking can increase the severity of Crohn's Disease and in the long term increase your risk for colon cancer no matter what form of IBD you have. Don't delay, kick that bad habit today!
This post was created with support from Bausch Health.