Sleep difficulties are common in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), as well as other gastrointestinal disorders including gastroesophageal reflux disease. Lethargy and daytime fatigue, which are common side effects of sleep disturbances, seem to also be common.
People with chronic pain report sleep as their number one problem. Certainly, abdominal pain, and pain from any source, can cause difficulty sleeping as well as arousals from sleep and consequent sleep fragmentation [interruptions of the sleep pattern, either to a lighter stage or to wakefulness, that reduce the total amount of time spent in the deeper levels of sleep].
How to improve sleep
While there are a variety of medications that help improve sleep temporarily, most (with the exception of some of the antidepressant medications) are not useful on a chronic basis.
Keeping good sleep hygiene is critical for anyone with sleep problems. This includes:
- having a period of time of relaxation before going to bed;
- keeping a specific wake up time even if you did not sleep well during the night;
- not staying in bed for more than 20 minutes without sleeping (get up and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy again);
- turning the clock away so when you awake you cannot focus on the time;
- using the bed only for sleep (or sexual activity) and not for reading, watching TV, or eating;
- and avoiding food or drinks with caffeine for at least 4 hours before bedtime.
Daytime activities also affect sleep, so regular exercise and avoidance of napping can greatly improve nighttime sleep.
Unfortunately, it is safe to say that the average doctor does not necessarily ask about sleep disturbance in patients with functional bowel disorders, and patients may not mention them to their treating physician.
Be sure to let your doctor know if your IBS symptoms are disturbing your sleep. Treatment for sleep disturbance will likely improve your overall quality of life.