Is your IBS worse at night? Here's 12 ways to handle your nighttime flare-ups
Is your IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) worse at night?
IBS and vomiting at night might be the culprit of poor sleep. Or, maybe it’s down to gas and bloating. Falling asleep and staying asleep can sometimes be an issue if you suffer from IBS.
If your IBS becomes a problem at night and is disturbing your sleep, don't panic. There are plenty of things you can do to improve your nighttime IBS flare-ups.
Why IBS can be worse at night
The main reason why you might be struggling with your IBS at night is because of your eating habits.
Many of us eat our largest meal of the day in the evening. If you start to experience IBS symptoms after eating then it is likely that by the time you go to bed, your symptoms will have started to flare-up.
When you are asleep your parasympathetic nervous system is more active. It controls many of your unconscious bodily functions, including digestion.
During the night when you aren’t actively controlling your body, your digestive system is still active and any issues you have will become more evident.
Can IBS cause sleep problems?
IBS can affect your quality of sleep. If your IBS symptoms flare-up at night and you are left dealing with gas, bloating, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain or bowel movements at night, then it will lead to lack of sleep.
If you are dealing with an IBS flare-up, you might have difficulty falling asleep. Sleep problems and IBS can impact your quality of life.
Can lack of sleep trigger IBS?
On the other hand, IBS patients who suffer with a sleep disorder or have sleep problems might notice that their symptoms of IBS are worse. Poor quality sleep can mean your IBS at night is an issue.
A study discovered that sleep disruption aggravated both the digestive tract and non-digestive tract symptoms associated with IBS.
How to handle a nighttime IBS flare up
1) Eat smaller portions
Eating a large meal before bed can put the digestive system into overdrive. Some patients with IBS have found that a large meal takes more time to digest. This can cause excessive gas and stomach pain.
You should eat a smaller portion earlier in the evening to allow proper digestion before going to sleep.
2) Avoid trigger foods at night
Common foods that trigger symptoms of IBS include fried, fatty foods, chocolate, coffee and alcohol. If you avoid these triggers, there will be less chance of an IBS flare-up at night.
3) Stay hydrated
Drinking plenty of water will help your bowels. Make sure that you are staying adequately hydrated throughout the day. Aim to drink 6-8 glasses of water a day. Keeping hydrated will help your IBS at night.
4) Eat plenty of fibre
Eating more fibre can help to bulk up your stool. To have regular, smooth bowel movements, your intestines need enough fibre to be able to move along waste.
When you increase your fibre intake it is important to do it slowly. A quick increase of fibre can throw off your beneficial gut bacteria and cause bloating.
No, you don’t need to go and run a marathon. You can go out and do something as simple as a light walk after dinner to help you avoid that dreaded nighttime IBS flare-up.
Not only does movement help with digestion, it also helps to relieve stress and anxiety which is a known issue with IBS sufferers.
6) Improve sleep hygiene
Good sleep hygiene means putting yourself in the best position to get a good night’s sleep each and every night.
Optimising your sleep schedule, having a pre-bed routine and creating a pleasant bedroom environment to drift off in can all improve your sleep hygiene.
7) Lower your sleep debt
When you don’t meet the amount of sleep that you need, you start to build up sleep debt (the running total of sleep you have missed out on).
Lower your sleep debt by focusing on getting good quality sleep and sticking to a sleep schedule.
Try going to bed 15 to 30 minutes earlier each night, as this can make a huge difference. Lower your bedtime gradually by 15 minutes until you reach your desired bedtime.
8) Keep your circadian rhythm in sync
Your circadian rhythm is your internal clock. The circadian rhythm organises the timings of certain tasks to optimise your biological functions.
There are tips you can follow if you want to keep your circadian rhythm in sync:
- Eat all of your meals within 12 hours
- Keep light levels low at nighttime
- Go outside in the daytime
- Get into a routine so that your daily activities (sleeping, eating, exercising) don’t differ by more than 2 hours Reduce stress and anxiety
9) Reduce stress and anxiety
Stress and anxiety can often keep you up at night, even when your IBS symptoms aren’t flaring up. By reducing your stress levels and lowering your anxiety you will get a better night’s sleep.
Working on improving your stress and anxiety will improve both your IBS and sleep, therefore allowing you to get a better night’s sleep overall.
Supplements such as melatonin have been found to ease abdominal pain in those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome.
It is thought that melatonin supplements can reduce pain, regulate digestion and promote the sensation to sleep.
Probiotics have the ability to improve your diversity of gut bacteria, making digestion run more smoothly. They’ve been shown to ease constipation, increase melatonin levels, improve pain and reduce bloating.
If you are suffering from constipation due to your IBS, then laxatives have been shown to promote bowel movements and get your digestive system back on track.
While over the counter (OTC) medications help with the occasional bout of constipation or diarrhoea, sometimes IBS symptoms might require stronger medications.
You can also speak to your GP to discuss how antidepressants or antispasmodics (used to relieve stomach cramps) can help you.
If you are struggling to sleep due to your IBS flare-up, you are certainly not alone! There is no need to worry as there are plenty of things you can do to ease your nighttime flare-up to ensure you are getting a good night's sleep.
If you are worried about the impact your sleep is having on your IBS or vice versa you should speak to your doctor for further support.