Why Does IBS Make Us Tired All the Time?

It's bad enough that you suffer with daytime symptoms of IBS, but when it flares up at night, it can create equally miserable problems.

You may struggle to fall asleep or to maintain uninterrupted sleep due to the pain and discomfort of IBS. The pain can come from the abdomen, the lower back, muscles, and/or joints.

The arousals from sleep to full-on wakefulness, or from deeper stages to lighter stages, is called sleep fragmentation, and it can make sleeping with IBS problematic as well. You can sleep all night long and still not feel rested as a result. New research now suggests that undetected, untreated sleep disorders may be linked to the development of IBS.

One recent study suggests that 37 percent of people with IBS also have a separate and measurable sleep disorder that may be a major contributor to their bowel problem.1 Finally, lost sleep at night translates into daytime fatigue, which can also create limitations to your activities if you feel you need to catch up on lost sleep during the day.

IBS and poor sleep

Two of the most common symptoms of IBS are gas and bloating. Usually they take place right after eating. Given that most people eat evening meals, this raises concerns about sleep problems for people with IBS.

Pain is also a frequent cause of sleep distress. Your body position, the temperature of the room, and IBS symptoms can lead to what is referred to as “painsomnia.” Broken, fragmented sleep or a failure to get sleep that is restorative are common undesirable outcomes of IBS flare-ups at night.

Insomnia also creates a pain threshold dilemma: the less adequate sleep you have, the more sensitive you become to pain. So, during the day, you may experience more IBS discomfort that’s related to the shift in your pain threshold due to lost sleep.

Other challenges include bouts of nighttime diarrhea (or even just the anxiety this causes), trouble getting comfortable in bed, and frequent nighttime urination (nocturia).

IBS and daytime fatigue

It doesn’t help to awaken to a day feeling sluggish after a night of poor sleep, only to deal with the residual sleepiness it brings. That daytime fatigue may lead to your desire to take naps during the day. It’s not a bad instinct to make up for lost sleep.

In fact, a brief nap (30 minutes) can help you do just that. But if you find yourself taking 2- to 3-hour naps almost every day, that reveals two problems that need investigation.

Circadian disruption describes shifts in one’s sleep-wake patterns that make it difficult to stay awake during the day or to fall asleep at night.

A long stretch of wakefulness during the day is a built-in guarantee you will fall asleep at night… unless you break it up with a long nap. Your “sleep drive” has been disrupted, and can lead to troubles falling asleep until much later in the evening.

Long daily naps may also signal other health problems that need addressing, such as prediabetes or an undiagnosed sleep disorder. Even depression can cause daytime sleepiness.

If you have IBS and you can’t sleep

Sleep hygiene is a series of best practices for getting better sleep at night. These habits may be more effective for bringing relief than you might think.

Choose your meals carefully

Be intentional about what, how much, and when you eat and drink.

  • Avoid caffeine after lunch. Half of it will wear off before dinner time, but caffeine metabolites can still linger, leading to withdrawal during periods of sleep.
  • Skip heavy, high-fat meals at dinner; they overtask the digestive system just when it's preparing for sleep.
  • Another culprit: alcohol. Drinks right before bed generally lead to arousals related to withdrawal once the alcohol has been metabolized by the body.
  • Finally, eat meals at least 4 hours before bedtime to allow your body to start digestion while you're still awake.

Practice relaxation prior to bedtime

Complementary health techniques include:

  • light yoga stretching
  • yogic breathing
  • progressive muscle relaxation
  • meditation

Turn off devices one hour before bed

Handheld electronics, laptops, even the television are doubly problematic for sleep, as they: offer stimulation at a time when you should be relaxing, and emit blue spectrum light, which literally shuts down melatonin production in the brain. Human beings need melatonin in order to fall asleep. Instead:

  • read something relaxing
  • listen to soft music
  • add to a jigsaw puzzle
  • enjoy an adult coloring book
  • knit or crochet

Charge your smartphone in your bathroom

Your brain naturally generates melatonin, but the bright blue light on your phone will signal the brain to stop, misinterpreting light signals as the return of daylight.

Keeping your phone charged in your bathroom creates a barrier so you won't take your phone to bed, then turn it on throughout the night. Also, it forces you to get out of bed to turn it off!

Make your sleeping space conducive to sleep

This means your bedroom should be:

  • quiet
  • dark
  • kept at a temperature that’s cooler than during the day (try layers of blankets that can easily be added or subtracted)
  • comfortable… a lumpy mattress or flat, unsupportive pillows should be replaced as needed

Some people use aromatherapy with lavender essential oil to help inspire relaxation.

Don’t worry over lost sleep

After 20 minutes, if you're still wide awake, get up and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy again; this is far more effective than becoming stressed over your sleeplessness. Insomnia frustration just unleashes stress hormones into the bloodstream; it can take at least half an hour before they settle down.

Wake up at the same time every day

Doing this supports a healthy circadian rhythm. Keeping a consistent bedtime is also helpful, but may not always be possible for some. If you have to choose, opt for the same wake-up time every single morning.

Have a sleep study

Most sleep disorders are treatable and not only address the sleep problem, but many of its related symptoms, such as pain or fatigue. If you suspect you have a sleep disorder, don’t hesitate to see a specialist.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

More on this topic

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The IrritableBowelSyndrome.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

or create an account to comment.

Community Poll

Have you taken our IBS In America Survey yet?