Could your Sleep be Worsening your IBS?
Did you know that a good night’s sleep can work wonders for your gut?
Approximately 40% of people with IBS report having problems sleeping (1). Research has shown that poor sleep is a key player in IBS, with people reporting heightened abdominal pain and distress the day after a poor night’s sleep (2). Sleep deprivation can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria in our microbiome, which can contribute to digestive issues such as bloating, gas, and constipation (3). On the other hand, good sleep promotes proper digestion and absorption of nutrients, supporting a healthy gut. Below we’ll explain why this is and what you can do to improve your sleep and boost your gut health.
Whilst it’s commonly presumed that IBS causes poor sleep, evidence suggests this is not often the case. Instead, many studies suggest that disruptions in our circadian rhythm directly increase IBS symptoms (4). Interestingly, melatonin, which regulates our circadian rhythm, has been shown to improve abdominal pain in patients with IBS (5).
The Gut-brain connection
There is a direct link between poor sleep and increased mood disturbances such as anxiety and depression (2,6). Our brain and our gut are connected via the vagus nerve which sends signals in a bi-directional flow. Low mood, depression, anxiety and high stress exacerbate IBS symptoms and vice versa. Stress weakens our immune system and alters our microbiome resulting in dysbiosis (7). By prioritising quality sleep, you give your body a chance to unwind, reduce stress, and improve digestion.
Sleep plays a crucial role in regulating hunger and fullness hormones, which control appetite and satiety (8). Sleep deprivation causes these hormones to become out of whack, increasing hunger. Increased hunger, paired with a lack of sleep often results in poorer food choices such as foods high in fat and carbohydrates. These types of foods can directly increase IBS symptoms. Additionally, increased hunger means larger meals and higher FODMAP content, again directly impacting on IBS symptoms.
So, how can you improve your sleep to optimise your gut?
- Establish a regular sleep schedule and wind down with relaxing activities like reading, meditating, or taking a warm bath or hot shower.
- Make your sleep sanctuary cozy and inviting. Invest in a comfortable mattress, keep your room cool and dark, and minimise the use of blue light on devices 1-2 hours before sleeping.
- Avoid heavy meals and caffeine close to bedtime. Instead, choose gut-friendly foods like fiber-rich fruits and veggies, wholegrains, and lean proteins.
- Engaging in regular physical activity not only helps tire you out, but it also promotes better sleep quality. Avoid high impact workouts close to bedtime, as they can have the opposite effect.
- Incorporate stress management techniques into your daily routine, such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, or engaging in activities you enjoy.
- If you are experiencing persistent sleep disturbances, we recommend seeking professional support through your GP who can provide personalised guidance and treatment options.
If you are concerned about your gut health and would like to speak with one of our dietitians about managing your IBS then please get in touch today.
Published: 21st July 2023
Author: Bianca Berton-Scarlet Monash FODMAP trained Dietitian