May 26, 2022
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For better sleep with IBD, consider shifting how you slumber.
We all know how much better things seem after a good night’s sleep, but it’s not always easy to achieve. Factors like stress and caffeine can easily limit the amount of quality shut-eye we get, but so can living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Steroids commonly used to treat IBD flares can lead to insomnia, as can many other medications. And don’t sleep on the effects of tossing and turning all night due to pain and discomfort, or having to get out of bed at 3 a.m. to use the toilet (I know I’ve been there!).
In fact, researchers have found that 77 percent of people with active IBD and 49 percent of those with inactive IBD (in remission) experience sleep disturbances. More research is being conducted, and recent studies, including a small study from 2018, show a relationship between active flare-ups and sleep disturbances,
And yet, getting quality sleep is super important for managing IBD. Sleep deprivation can trigger inflammation, which can worsen IBD. In addition, a 2013 study showed that people with inactive Crohn’s disease who had trouble sleeping were twice as likely to experience a relapse within 6 months.
It turns out that the way in which we sleep — whether we lie on our sides, stomachs, or backs — can go a long way toward helping us get our Zzz’s.
There’s no one sleeping position that’s ideal for everyone with IBD. The best position for you depends on your symptoms.
However, if you find yourself waking up during the night, looking at your sleeping position could be helpful. Here’s the lowdown on lying down.
This is probably the least desirable option, since the pressure it places on your stomach can cause discomfort and cramping. This is something I notice if I wake up and I’ve rolled into sleeping face down, so I’ve always avoided sleeping that way.
Sleeping on your stomach can also force you to keep your head and neck twisted to one side, which can result in neck and shoulder pain.
Research from 2020 found that about 22 percent of people with ulcerative colitis (UC) commonly experience pain in these regions. I do too, even though I have Crohn’s, so that’s another reason I avoid this position.
Sleeping on your back can offer a good alternative to help relieve stomach pressure. This is sometimes my fail-safe option if I’m dealing with stomach cramps.
It can also help reduce gastroesophageal reflux and its accompanying heartburn, particularly if you elevate the head of the bed using either a wedge-shaped pillow or bed blocks. This can be important, as more than 63 percent of people with Crohn’s disease have reported experiencing heartburn, and those with heartburn report worse sleep.
I find that when I use my wedge, I am much less likely to wake up in the night with nausea, reflux, and stomach pain.
This is perhaps the most popular position (more than half of people sleep on their sides for at least part of the night), and this might actually help digestion — as long as you sleep on your left side.
This sleeping position takes advantage of the effects of gravity to help waste move through the colon as you snooze. Left side sleeping can also help with heartburn and acid reflux, because it keeps gastric juices below the level of the esophagus.
One 2015 study found that sleeping on the left with a wedge was the best of all options, and it also helped keep sleepers in the same position throughout the night.
If you’re experiencing pain, you might opt for a fetal position by bringing your knees to your chest as you sleep or rest. This puts temporary pressure on your stomach, helping you pass gas and relieve bloating. I find it really helps move wind quickly and makes my stomach feel better.
It might be worth rethinking your bedroom setup, too. If you aren’t comfortable during the night, you can toss and turn — and wake up in a different position than when you went to sleep.
For me and many others with IBD, night sweats can keep us from sleeping soundly. In a 2011 study of people with active IBD, 24 percent of those with Crohn’s and 15 percent of people with UC experienced fever or night sweats.
This can be due to inflammation or the result of certain medications (steroids like prednisolone are known to cause night sweats). Night sweats can also occur because of an infection, such as a perianal disease, which is a complication for 17 percent to 43 percent of people with CD.
I have personally experienced several abscesses that have caused night sweats. I also do tend to just get hot during the night.
If you’re a hot sleeper, consider using a cooling mattress, pillow, or sheets. Many types of these products are available, and I find they really do make me feel cooler. If your night sweats aren’t consistent, many cooling products are reversible, so you can flip them over when you don’t need the cool side. Some companies use materials like aloe or copper to help cool.
Others use bamboo, which has moisture-wicking properties to keep you cool. It’s also hypoallergenic, so it’s good for people with IBD who also have skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema.
While there isn’t one magic formula for getting the best night’s sleep with IBD, sleeping on your left side or back, potentially with a wedge, might be the most beneficial for you.
If your sleep is getting disturbed regularly, it could be worth investigating a new sleeping position, with or without props, and looking at your bedroom setup as well.
The suggestions above can help you get a good night’s sleep, but it’s important to manage your symptoms by taking medications as prescribed and managing stress as recommended by your healthcare professional.
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