Sleep and Digestion: How Sleep Affects IBD Symptoms

Sleep and Digestion: How Sleep Affects IBD Symptoms

More than 10 million people worldwide suffer from Crohn’s disease and other IBD issues. When it comes to managing a gastrointestinal disease, sleep is of the utmost importance. Without it, your digestive system won’t function as it should, which can lead to discomfort. 

To learn more about the connection between a lack of sleep and digestion, take a look at some of the most common symptoms below:

Increased Inflammation

Many irritable bowel disorders are caused by inflammation within the gut. Conditions like Crohn’s disease are triggered by an immune response that causes inflammation. This usually occurs because of something that a person ate or drank.

However, your immune system is also connected to your sleep habits. When an individual doesn’t get enough rest, their immune system creates an increased amount of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which causes an excess of inflammation.

If you’ve experienced digestive issues, it’s probably because you have trouble sleeping. Unfortunately, if you don’t get enough rest, your digestion will probably get worse.

For those with Crohn’s disease, sleep is vital to ensuring that they don’t experience painful flare-ups.


A lack of rest is enough to make anyone cranky. When people don’t get enough sleep, they often feel more stressed. When a person tosses and turns all night, they’re likely to wake up feeling irritable and tired which also causes stress.

The downside to this is that the more anxious and stressed you are, the more you hinder your digestive system. That means that when you are stressed your body goes into a defensive mode.

When this occurs, the majority of your blood and energy go towards protecting your limbs and certain areas of the brain.

At that point, your digestion comes to a halt, which creates constipation or diarrhea.

Unhealthy Food Cravings

There is something about not getting enough rest that makes a person feel hungry. One of the biggest cravings that come along with sleep deprivation is sugar. This happens because a lack of sleep causes a hormone imbalance.

The hormone ghrelin that makes a person feel hungry begins to dominate the hormone leptin, which alerts the brain when a person is full. That’s why when an individual is feeling tired, they’ll often reach for snacks like cookies and candy to help compensate for their lack of rest.

However, this is not good for people who suffer from IBD. The last thing you need is food that’ll trigger an uncomfortable response.

Alterations in Neurochemicals

A person’s body regulates a balance between hormones and chemicals that cycle throughout the body each day. The two main hormones that balance sleep are melatonin and cortisol. At night, melatonin levels go up, which helps to prep the body for rest.

As your sleep cycle continues, your body begins to replace melatonin with cortisol, which is a stress hormone. A jolt of cortisol is what helps you get out of the bed in the morning and begin your day.

In conjunction with this sleep cycle, your body also produces serotonin. It’s a neurotransmitter that preludes melatonin. It’s primarily located within the gut, so when you’re experiencing digestive issues it negatively affects your serotonin by preventing it from transforming into melatonin.

If this occurs, melatonin production levels drop, cortisol increases, and it onsets a cycle of restless nights.

Digestive Issues That Hinder Sleep

A lack of rest doesn’t just create digestive problems, but the situation works in reverse as well. Unfortunately, when the two work hand-in-hand, it creates a vicious cycle of sleeplessness, which isn’t good for people suffering from Crohn’s disease.

Below are some of the most common digestive issues that affect sleep:


It’s nearly impossible to get comfortable enough to go to sleep when you have heartburn. The burning sensation that you feel in your esophagus is horrible. You might also find yourself drinking a lot of water to soothe it, which leads to frequent trips to the bathroom.

Heartburn is caused by your digestive system not creating the proper amount of acid. When this happens, your body tells your brain to shut off the valve. When your valve is closed, it’s usually because there are plenty of fluids circulating in your stomach to help break down food.

However, when your valve is open it allows acid to flow up and burn your throat. The burning is worse when you lay down and try to get sleep.


When you’re constipated, it’s difficult to rest. There’s a lot of tension and stress in your stomach area. More than likely, if your brain is focused on trying to go to the bathroom, you’re not relaxed enough to sleep.

Also, constipation usually occurs because of dehydration. Therefore, if you’re dehydrated, that’s going to make it harder for you to sleep as well.


When you’re experiencing diarrhea, there’s no way you’re going to be able to sleep. Diarrhea alerts the body when you have to go to the bathroom and it creates an urgency within the bowels.

If you have diarrhea, you’ll have to make frequent trips to the bathroom until your digestive system is regulated again.

Sleep and Digestion: Managing Crohn’s the Right Way

As you can see from the information above, sleep and digestion go hand-in-hand. If you’ve been experiencing complications from Crohn’s disease, it could be due to a lack of sleep. 

To get more information about managing your Crohn’s symptoms, keep reading our blog. We offer a variety of resources to help you deal with Crohn’s and avoid flare-ups.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us

We’re here for you when you need us!

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