A Good Night's Sleep: An Essential Tool in Managing IBS
In addition to having IBS, I am also an intermittent insomniac. My insomnia has taken many forms. Most often, I've had a lot of trouble falling asleep at night and spend hours tossing and turning in my bed. Other times, I may fall asleep quickly enough, but wake up many times throughout the night or several hours earlier in the morning than I intended to and then can't fall back asleep. There are even times, usually it's been at least once a month or more, where I have passed an entire night without getting a single second of sleep.
Sometimes, IBS and other digestive issues are actually part of the problem keeping me awake, whether it's heartburn, nausea, bloating or intestinal cramping. But it's worth noting that missing a couple of nights of sleep can mess me up in all sorts of ways, including on the literal, gut level.
Is there a connection between insomnia and IBS?
I tried to find out if there is a documented correlation between insomnia and IBS. I found a study from over 20 years ago, "Sleep and gastric function in irritable bowel syndrome," in which the the survey participants reported a decrease in their IBS symptoms when they slept well.1 A much more recent study in 2016 had a more assertive claim to the link between IBS and insomnia, noting that “sleep disturbances are more common in patients with IBS versus healthy control participants, and correlate with IBS-related pain, distress and poorer IBS-related quality of life.”2 Yet another study from 2004 out of the Mayo Clinic found that of over 2,200 people polled, 39% reported experiencing insomnia at least once a month, of which 15% also had IBS.3
Can synthetic melatonin help with IBS symptoms?
So, what is the exact nature of the correlation between lack of sleep and IBS? Well, as 90% of melatonin--a hormone produced in the body that helps a person sleep--is produced in the gut, if you are having gut trouble, it might logically impact the production of melatonin, and therefore adversely effect your ability to sleep well. This may account for why one scientific paper reviewing research on melatonin found taking a synthetic dose of it before bed often benefits IBS patients in relieving their symptoms such as associated abdominal pain.4 And of course, not sleeping well can increase stress and anxiety and amplify pain signals, in turn contributing to the exacerbation of IBS symptoms.
Soon, I will be offering tips for getting a good night's sleep even with IBS. In the meantime, how does sleep impact your IBS and vice versa?
Do you live with any sleep disorders (eg. insomnia, RLS, sleep apnea) in addition to IBS?