Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis relapse may be triggered by sleep disturbances

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis relapse may be triggered by sleep disturbances

Many people understand the importance of a getting a good night’s sleep, but recent research indicates that two inflammatory bowel diseases, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis could relapse due to sleep disturbances.


Sleep disturbances are associated with absenteeism at work, as well as an increased need for healthcare services. Research shows that it is also closely linked to gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms. These problems could include hypertension or impairment of glucose control, and increased inflammation. While getting back into a normal sleep pattern can often resolve health issues, science tells us that it is different with IBD and sleep. With IBD or inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, symptoms often worsen when there are sleep disturbances.

Until recently, there have only been a handful of studies closely examining the relationship between IBD and sleep. Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC) are the two most common inflammatory bowel diseases. In both of these diseases there are sudden flare-ups, as well as periods of remission. It is now believed that these chronic diseases are a complex mix of genetic and environmental factors. Sleep disturbances may be one of those factors so improving sleep could potentially help manage the disease. This according to new research conducted by a team of medical specialists at Rush University in Chicago and Mercer University in Atlanta.

It turns out that sleep can modify the immune system, thus impacting chronic inflammatory conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Sleep calms the inflammatory process and it also allows patients to cope better with symptoms associated with their condition – symptoms such as abdominal pain and fatigue. The data collected during the universities’ research phase suggests that poor sleep patterns can have a significant impact on the quality of life someone with inflammatory bowel disease has.

Lack of sleep can increase your risk of developing ulcerative colitis

risk of developing ulcerative colitisIn the fall of 2014, the journal of the American Gastroenterological Association published a study about ulcerative colitis and sleep deprivation. It concluded that if you are not getting the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night, you might be increasing your risk of developing ulcerative colitis.

Researchers enrolled women from the Nurses’ Health Study 1 since 1976 and the NHS 2 since 1989 to gather data. The large size of the study allowed them to get a good follow-up perspective on sleep duration and ulcerative colitis. The results showed that both short and long duration sleep patterns were associated with increased risk of the disease. This means that if a participant got less than 7 hours of sleep their risk of ulcerative colitis went up and if they got more than 9 hours of sleep their risk went up as well.

One previous study, conducted in 2013 and published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology suggests that poor sleep quality, even when a person is in remission, can result in a two-fold increase in the risk of Crohn’s disease flare-ups at six months.

Sleep disturbance may trigger Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis relapse: Previous study

sleep disturbanceThe study looked at the impact of sleep disturbance in both Crohn’s disease patients and ulcerative colitis patients. At the beginning of the study over one thousand participants had inactive Crohn’s disease. The participants who reported sleep disruptions ended up with double the rate of disease relapse six months later, compared with people who reported having normal sleep.

The sleep cycle is called the “circadian clock” or “internal clock”. It is located inside the brain. The brain secretes a hormone called melatonin at nighttime, which helps regulate that clock. Bodily functions, such as digestion help influence it. During the sleep cycle, digestion slows and although researchers are still investigating details about digestion, they do know that digestive problems like Crohn’s disease have some link to sleep disturbance, likely due to digestive changes.

Some ways to help you sleep better and prevent sleep deprivation

About 1.4 million people in the United States suffer from either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. They are relieved when they go into remission. Having sleep disturbances ignite their symptoms can be extremely frustrating so speaking to a doctor or sleep specialist can be very helpful.

To prevent sleep deprivation you can try taking melatonin available in tablet form over the counter, but it doesn’t work for everyone and can get expensive if you take it regularly. Healthy habits are a very good way to promote a restful night.


Healthy habits include going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, getting at least 7 hours of sleep and avoiding naps during the day. These steps will give you a fighting chance at establishing a regular sleep pattern. Additionally, you should avoid caffeine later in the day, avoid alcohol in the evening, try not to eat meals late at night and remember to get exercise regularly.

As mentioned earlier, we all have an “internal clock.” This means that we need light and dark to help regulate that clock. Get doses of sunshine during the day. At night when you go to bed, make sure your room is dark and quiet. You can also try drinking a tea that promotes relaxation, taking a warm bath, or meditating just before heading to bed.

If sleep eludes you no matter what you do, speak to your doctor. He or she can guide you through some approaches to getting a good night’s sleep. Your doctor will also be able to assess how sleep deprivation is impacting your health.