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Sleep Hygiene Tips for IBS Awareness Month

It’s no secret that people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) suffer from poor sleep. In April – National IBS Awareness Month – we take a look at some ways people with IBS can help themselves to achieve deeper, better sleep through the practice of good sleep hygiene.

Obstacles to good sleep

If you have IBS, chances are good you’ve experienced one or more of the following sleep problems:

  • Difficulty falling asleep (sleep onset insomnia)
  • Difficulty maintaining sleep (sleep fragmentation)
  • Waking frequently, especially to use the bathroom for a bowel movement
  • Not feeling well rested in the morning (shallow sleep)
  • Daytime sleepiness caused by poor nighttime sleep

Awakening frequently is especially troubling, and yet common among people with IBS. One study has found that people with IBS experience as many as 30 awakenings or arousals per hour at night which contribute to a lighter sleep pattern.1

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It’s almost impossible to get enough sleep or to achieve deeper, more restorative sleep with these kinds of sleep patterns.

The reasons for these problems are pretty straightforward:

  • IBS causes pain which is highly disruptive of sleep
  • The more severe your IBS symptoms are, the more severe your sleep disruption will be

If you’re experiencing pain and IBS flare-ups at night, it’s no wonder you can’t sleep. Painsomnia is a common cause for poor sleep, no matter what health condition you might have.

What is sleep hygiene?

This term describes the behaviors and decisions that impact your ability to get enough quality sleep at night.

Good sleep hygiene

Having good "sleep hygiene" means you make bedtime a priority. It takes into account things you, as a person with IBS, have some control over, such as your sleeping environment, your eating habits, your bedtime rituals, and other lifestyle choices that impact sleep. Even going to bed at the same time every night represents behavior that supports good circadian rhythm function.

Poor sleep hygiene

Poor sleep happens when you don’t make sleep a priority. You may not make good choices when it comes to eating and exercise, for instance, or you may have a sleeping space that’s not conducive to sleep. Or, in some cases, you may not have a choice in keeping consistent sleep hours and habits due to your work schedule or caring for others at night.

Techniques for improving sleep in IBS

Here are some ways to prioritize your sleep so that you can catch as many ZZZs as possible.

Bedtime relaxation

Create some rituals to ensure you get your night off to a sleepy start. Make your sleeping space, quiet, dark, and comfortable. Aromatherapy and soft music can create a relaxing environment. A warm bath or massage at bedtime can make you drowsy. Practicing stretches or yoga breathing patterns can help clear the mind; so can keeping a bedtime journal to collect your thoughts. Putting away stimulating media helps to calm the mind, and reading or other meditative or quiet activities can also help. All of these can work to help you reduce your time from wake to sleep onset.

CBT-I techniques

CBT-I stands for Cognitive Behavior Therapy for Insomnia. CBT-I refers to a group of techniques you can learn from a trained therapist which can help you overcome behaviors that thwart sleep. CBT-I is now considered the “gold standard” (before sleeping pills) for overcoming insomnia. It can be especially useful for those who struggle to fall back asleep after awakening in the middle of the night.

Treat your pain

Painsomnia is a significant symptom of IBS and should be taken seriously. Pain is the enemy of sleep, and when you don’t get enough sleep, your pain perception worsens. It’s a vicious cycle. Ask your doctor about solutions for bowel-related pain that could be keeping you up at night.

Manage your disease and symptoms

If you’re struggling to stay in bed all night because of a repeated call to the bathroom, discuss medication solutions with your doctor. The fewer trips and awakenings will result in more and better sleep.

Stay hydrated

A nice glass of cold water at bedtime can do a couple of things for you: it can replenish lost fluids which will help your IBS symptoms, and it will lower your core body temperature, which is something the circadian rhythms need to send you off to sleep at night.

Make bowel-friendly food and drink choices

You generally know what foods you’re most sensitive to during the day. Make sure you practice smart choices at dinner time and try not to eat too late at night. Coffee and alcohol are not sleep - or gut-friendly substances in the later part of the day and could disrupt your sleep as well.

Remember, while sleep hygiene is not a magic bullet, it does create opportunities for you to nab more and better sleep,  which can help improve your quality of life with IBS.

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