How to Sleep With IBS
Last updated: July 2023
Have you ever slept poorly, only to wake up with an IBS flare the next day? Or maybe you are already in the middle of a flare, and your gut symptoms make sleeping impossible.
You’re not alone. Many people with IBS report a connection between the severity of their IBS symptoms and the quality of their sleep. Research shows that almost 40 percent of all people with IBS have difficulties related to their sleep.1
Let's review the research on the connection between sleep and IBS and tips for getting a good night’s rest.
Research on sleep and IBS
While there isn’t much research looking at the link between sleep and IBS, the few studies that have been conducted show that sleep disturbances are common in people living with IBS.1-3
A preliminary study looking at the effect of IBS on sleep found that people with IBS experienced worse sleep than the control group. Another study looking at the relationship between IBS and sleep symptoms found that people with IBS reported worse sleep quality, more difficulty falling asleep, and less satisfaction with their sleep pattern.2,3
While sleep is likely not the sole cause of your IBS symptoms, it can certainly play a role. And getting a good night’s rest is important for your physical and mental health.
Tips for sleeping well with IBS
Sleeping well can be challenging even in the best of times, and sleeping during an IBS flare can be even more difficult. Below are some tips that my clients have found useful for getting a better night’s rest.
Eat a smaller evening meal
When you eat a large meal, your stomach needs to stretch to make room for the food. The stretch of your stomach can cause an uncomfortable feeling of bloating and distention.
This is because people with IBS have visceral sensitivity. In other words, the nerves in your gut are super sensitive. As a result, the normal stretching of your stomach feels painful.4
A smaller dinner means less stomach stretch, which may help reduce the likelihood of IBS symptoms that will keep you awake at night.
Avoid trigger foods at night
Most people with IBS have identified trigger foods that make their symptoms worse. If you know that certain foods trigger symptoms, try to avoid them in the evening to reduce the likelihood of a flare making it difficult to sleep.
Use a heating pad or hot water bottle
A heating pad or hot water bottle is a simple, inexpensive way to relieve abdominal pain. Many people find that relaxing with a heating pad or hot water bottle for 15 to 20 minutes before bed can soothe uncomfortable guts. You may find it is best not to sleep with the heating pad on because you become too hot, making it more difficult to sleep.
Turn off electronic devices
Research shows that using electronic devices like your cell phone before bed is linked to poor sleep quality, daytime sleepiness, and sleep disturbances.5
This is because electronic devices emit blue light, which reduces melatonin production. Melatonin is also known as the sleep hormone, and lower melatonin levels can make it harder to fall (and stay) asleep.6
The National Sleep Foundation recommends turning off electronics with screens like TVs and computers as bedtime approaches. If you must use electronic devices at night, try turning down the brightness, setting your device to "nighttime mode," or using an app that will reduce the amount of blue light emitted from your device.7
Relationship between sleep and IBS
There’s a 2-way relationship between IBS and sleep. Studies show that people with IBS tend to have worse sleep, and poor sleep has also been linked to worsening IBS symptoms. Try using the strategies above to ensure you have a good night’s rest.1-3
What are your favorite strategies for getting a good night’s sleep? Share them in the comments or forums!
Have you ever tried acupuncture to relieve IBS symptoms?