Is Poor Sleep Making Your IBS Worse?

      Or is it the other way around?

By Dr. Don Davis

sleep-and-ibs-imageRecently there has been a great deal of work exploring the relationships of IBS to many other disorders like brain fog, heart burn (GERD) and bacterial overgrowth. So, it’s not really a surprise that other problems would related as well.


One of the more interesting connections of IBS and seemingly unrelated conditions is its connection to sleep.  We know that IBS is common in America – around 20%, and women are 3 times more likely to suffer the consequences. Unfortunately, 85% of IBS people had frequent awakenings and unsatisfactory sleep. That statistic unfortunately underestimates the suffering when you consider the additional effect of sleep on IBS.


Sleep disturbances are a common sad reality in IBS, but most people think that it is the pain and frequent trips to the bathroom at night that limit sleep.  In fact, two studies in the last 6 months indicate that the connection of sleep and IBS is much more fundamental with the negative effects going both ways and leading patients into a downward spiral of pain, sleeplessness, inflammation and changes in bowel habits.


These studies show that people with IBS usually have difficulties with falling asleep, frequent waking, shorter sleep time and non-restorative sleep.  Not only that, the more symptoms of IBS you have, the greater the sleep disturbance.  The risk of having IBS was 160% higher in people that had difficulties with their sleep and once the symptoms of IBS were evident the symptoms were more severe.


Other studies have found that decreased sleep leads to increased visceral sensitivity (hyperalgesia) and a viscous cycle where poor sleep leads to visceral pain and visceral pain leads to poor sleep. This visceral pain is a cornerstone to IBS where the colon is much more sensitive to pain than normal.


What is the connection?

Man with abdominal pain in stomach holding hands on his belly

Both sleep and visceral sensitivity are controlled mainly by the autonomic (involuntary) nervous system (ANS); that part of our nervous system that is always working in the background, controlling everything from blood pressure to pupil diameter.  When the ANS is activated, there are far-reaching effects. Some of those affects are to disturb sleep and to increase pain levels.  This unfortunately happens more often in IBS.  This is one of the reasons stress is related to IBS and to other pain syndromes.


Sleep is not a voluntary activity and a lot of things have to go right for a good night’s sleep.  Our neurotransmitters have to be balanced, our brain waves must sync in a special way, and our gut has to be healthy and free of inflammation. That’s why starting with our digestion is a great place to start because inflammation is something we can test for, control and treat successfully.


Anything that can modulate the autonomic system and can have positive effects on your IBS. .  This is why I routinely give a list of “sleep suggestions” to my IBS patients, in an effort to control IBS through improved sleep.


Now, let us know about your IBS / Sleep patterns and how you have solved them.




Leave A Comment


First Name
Email address