It’s no secret that, as a nation, we’re pretty sleep-deprived. According to the Sleep Council’s most recent Great British Bedtime Report, 30% of Brits sleep badly most nights – and there’s growing evidence that sleepless nights could be a particular issue for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Half of IBS sufferers struggle with insomnia – and those that do get poor sleep may experience more severe symptoms the next day. For example, women with IBS reported experiencing stomach pain, tiredness and anxiety after a bad night’s sleep, one study found.
Is sleep part of the puzzle?
IBS symptoms mainly include diarrhoea or constipation (or both at different times), stomach pain and cramps, as well as things like fatigue, depression, headaches and backaches – and while symptoms tend to flare up in acute attacks or phases rather than being constant, the condition can have a significant impact on quality of life. Exactly what causes IBS isn’t always clear, although we do know certain triggers exist, such as stress, gastrointestinal infections and imbalances in gut bacteria, while certain foods can aggravate symptoms too.
There’s no cure for IBS. IBS treatment largely revolves around managing symptoms and avoiding IBS triggers – so anything that enables us to understand these a bit better can be really helpful. Sleep, we already know, is vital for healthy gut function in general (in fact, it’s crucial for all aspects of health and wellbeing!) – so could it be an important part of the IBS jigsaw?
An aggravating factor
In a recent study by Patel et al, researchers looked at the impact of sleep patterns on specific IBS symptoms. They found that people with IBS were more likely to report poor sleep, and also wake more frequently during the night. Sleep disruption, the study concluded, was found to aggravate both GI (such as abdominal pain) and non-GI symptoms (such as joint pain and headaches) of IBS.
What does this mean for IBS patients? While it’s unlikely that sleep will be the sole cause of your IBS, it’s clear that sleep can play a role – whether that’s due to direct links with your gut, or in a wider sense, as part of managing stress, for example.