Crohn’s disease symptoms can interfere with your sleep. Finding the right treatment plan and developing a sleep routine can help you get the shut-eye you need.
If you live with Crohn’s disease, you’re probably all too familiar with the bathroom sprints you need to make whenever you have the urge to go. But one symptom you might not immediately link to your Crohn’s disease is insomnia.
If you’re tossing and turning in bed, you’re not alone. Poor sleep quality is common in people with Crohn’s disease, and it’s associated with Crohn’s complications and relapses.
Whether it’s Crohn’s disease symptoms, anxiety, or something else keeping you up at night, a lack of sleep could make your condition even harder to manage. While there’s no quick fix for insomnia, therapy could be the key to more restful nights.
In short, yes. At least half of people with Crohn’s don’t get their full 7–9 hours of sleep each night. This percentage is even higher in people with active Crohn’s disease. In other words, the more severe your symptoms, the more likely you are to be short on shut-eye.
Why does Crohn’s make it so hard to sleep? Experts say a few factors may be to blame. Gastrointestinal (GI) pain, nighttime wake-ups to use the bathroom, and anxiety associated with living with a chronic condition can all make sleep harder to come by.
More inflammation can equal more Crohn’s flares. According to one 2020 study, people with Crohn’s disease who have insomnia end up in the hospital more often and are more likely to need surgery than those who sleep soundly.
It’s not like Crohn’s symptoms only rev up at bedtime. But a lack of sleep could flare up your symptoms in the overnight hours. More pain and more frequent bathroom trips can mean less sleep for you.
From there, it’s easy to get stuck in a cycle of no sleep, more symptoms — rinse and repeat.
When you see your doc about your Crohn’s disease symptoms, it’s important to have a convo about sleep too. Your GI doctor may send you to a sleep specialist to investigate whether you also have sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome. Sleep disorders like these often overlap with inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease.
Taking steps to manage your Crohn’s symptoms is one key to better sleep. The more your disease is flaring, the more likely you are to have insomnia. You might need to try a few meds, such as biologics, to find one that helps get your inflammation under control.
A type of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia might also help with the pain, inflammation, and anxiety that can keep you up at night. For this treatment, you meet with a sleep psychologist or another specialist for 6–8 sessions. They can teach you how to relax and connect your thoughts to sleep in a more positive way.
Here are a few other tips to help you get more sleep:
- Stick to a schedule: Try to wake up and go to sleep at the same times every day. Yes, even on the weekends!
- Turn off your screens an hour before bed: The blue light from your phone and tablet can throw your circadian rhythm (your sleep-wake cycle) out of whack.
- Don’t force it: If you can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something calming (we’re talking about reading, not playing video games) until you feel tired.
- Skip the after-dinner cappuccino: Caffeine can keep you up at night. You might also want to avoid drinking alcohol close to bedtime.
- Set your bedroom up for max sleep: That means lights off, temperature cool, and music turned way down (whenever possible).
There’s no evidence that one sleep position is better than any other for Crohn’s disease. But if you’re a stomach or back sleeper, you might want to try rolling over onto your side. Sleeping on your belly puts extra pressure on your GI tract, and snoozing on your back could make sleep apnea and snoring worse.
Crohn’s disease is more than just a GI disease. It can affect many areas of your life, including your sleep. And the sleep disruptions it causes could make your disease flare even more.
You don’t have to let Crohn’s-fueled insomnia rule your nights. Talking with your doctor, getting on the right meds, and getting into a good sleep routine can help you reclaim the Zzz’s you’ve been missing out on.