Crohn’s disease can make getting quality sleep difficult. Common symptoms of Crohn’s disease include abdominal pain and diarrhea, which can make it difficult to get deep, uninterrupted rest. If you or a loved one has Crohn’s, you may want to know how you can mitigate some of these issues and improve your quality of sleep.
In this guide, we’ll discuss how Crohn’s disease can affect your quality of sleep. We’ll also provide some tips for sleeping better when you have Crohn’s disease. While we’ll share advice from medical professionals, we at Sleepopolis are not medical experts. Please be sure to consult with your healthcare provider with any medical questions you have related to your sleep.
What is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease is a chronic, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) of the gastrointestinal tract. According to a study in the United European Gastroenterology Journal, Crohn’s symptoms can include diarrhea, abdominal pain, psychological stress, mood disorder, and complications involving the central nervous system, such as cognitive impairment. (1)
To better understand this disease, I consulted Andrea Nakayama of the Functional Nutrition Alliance. She explained that, in addition to frequent bowel movements, mental health challenges, and chronic pain, folks with Crohn’s may also experience nutritional deficiencies. But she stresses that each patient is going to experience this disease differently.
With that in mind, let’s see how these symptoms can affect sleep.
Crohn’s Disease and Sleep
Research shows the vast majority of people with Crohn’s experience sleep issues. According to a 2013 study in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, “There is no question that patients with IBD report poor sleep quality. Currently, 1.4 million Americans have received a diagnosis of IBD, and studies would suggest that 750,000 to 1 million of these patients are affected by sleep disturbances.” (2)
One way Crohn’s can affect sleep is by causing you to wake up at night, according to Dr. Ceppie Merry of Healthy But Smart. As such, people with Crohn’s can have less restful sleep than those without it, even if they get more hours of sleep. The United European Gastroenterology Journal study I mentioned earlier examined 49 people with Crohn’s and 31 people without Crohn’s. The researchers found that, despite a higher median sleep duration per night in Crohn’s participants, those with Crohn’s ultimately had poorer sleep quality.
In addition to Crohn’s disease affecting sleep, sleep can affect Crohn’s disease. A 2013 study in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology that examined 1,798 individuals with IDB, with 1,291 having Crohn’s disease, found that quality sleep could play a role in reducing IBD relapses. (3)
Poor sleep can have a damaging effect on folks with CD. Using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) to determine what constitutes as poor sleep, a 2018 study in the Journal of Crohn’s and Colitis noted that poor sleep increased the chances that folks with Crohn’s might need surgery or hospitalization. (4)
But how do you define good sleep quality? Dr. Rashmi Byakodi of Best for Nutrition told me that the quality of your sleep depends on multiple variables. These include sleep duration, how long it takes you to fall asleep, how long you’re asleep in bed compared to the time you spend in bed, and the number of times you wake up in the night. She recommends getting eight hours of sleep each night.
I also spoke with nutritionist Lisa Richards, author of The Candida Diet, who said that flare-ups in people with Crohn’s disease can make it difficult to sleep. A study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine backs up this claim, concluding that sleep disturbances can potentially worsen inflammation or cause it to flare up. This could also worsen symptoms such as diarrhea and abdominal pain. (5)
Tips for Better Sleep with Crohn’s
While folks suffering from Crohn’s may have a harder time getting quality sleep, there are ways to mitigate some of these issues. I asked multiple experts for their advice on ways to make sleeping with Crohn’s easier.
Watch what you eat.
Lisa Richards recommends sticking with an anti-inflammatory diet and avoiding foods that have dairy, refined sugar, and high fat. She also says it’s best to avoid cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, and kale. She says that if you’re experiencing a flare-up, you should stick with bland foods like white rice, applesauce, and bananas.
In addition, science sleep coach and founder of Comfybeddy Laura Bates recommends not drinking caffeine or eating heavy meals before bedtime. Also, one 2003 study in American Family Physician suggests folks can ease their Crohn’s symptoms by using vitamin and mineral supplementation, such as vitamin B12, fat soluble vitamins, calcium, and folic acid. (6)
Create an ideal sleep environment.
Maximizing your sleep potential in your bedroom is very important. Laura Bates says that blocking outside light, setting a cooler temperature, and using a comfortable mattress can all help you sleep better. She also recommends sticking to a routine. Meaning, you go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time, even on weekends. Dr. Sashini Seeni, General Practitioner of Medicine at DoctorOnCall agrees that a bedtime routine is important to keep your body used to a schedule.
As a side note, Laura Bates suggests not taking long naps in the afternoon can make sleeping at night easier.
Alex Savy of SleepingOcean told me that meditation or mindful breathing could help with anxiety related to your health. Dr. Byakodi agrees, saying that relaxation and meditation can help you sleep better by reducing stress, which can be a symptom of Crohn’s disease.
Regular exercise can also do a lot to help you sleep better. Dr. Seeni recommends exercising every day, if possible. Laura Bates agrees, saying that you should exercise during the day, but not to the point where you exhaust yourself.
Talk to your doctor about medications.
Prescription medications may be beneficial depending on your condition. Alex Savy recommends consulting your doctor about pain-reducing medications to help with any aches when you sleep. And according to Dr. Byakodi, you may want to consider asking your doctor about prescription sleep medications. That’s not to say that medications are a must, so please check with your doctor to see if taking a prescription for pain reduction and/or sleep is right for you.
Last Word From Sleepopolis
Hopefully, we’ve given you some good ideas to use to improve sleep if you or a loved one suffers from Crohn’s disease. Please remember that we’re not medical experts and not all of these recommendations may apply to you.
- Van Langenberg, D et al. Cognitive impairment in Crohn’s disease is associated with systemic inflammation, symptom burden and sleep disturbance. United European Gastroenterology Journal. Aug 8, 2016
- Kinnucan, J et al. Sleep and Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Exploring the Relationship Between Sleep Disturbances and Inflammation. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. Nov 2013.
- Ananthakrishnan, A et al. Sleep Disturbance and Risk of Active Disease in Patients with Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. Feb 1, 2013.
- Opheim, R et al. Chronic fatigue in patients with inflammatory bowel disease is associated with lower health–related quality of life, low self-esteem, increased anxiety and depression. Journal of Crohn’s and Colitis. Jan 16, 2018.
- Keefer, L et al. An Initial Report of Sleep Disturbance in Inactive Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Oct 15, 2016.
- Knutson, D et al. Management of Crohn’s Disease—A Practical Approach. American Family Physician. Aug 15, 2003.