How Sleep Affects Gut Health & IBS Symptoms

Sleep and digestion are major parts of our day that may seem unrelated, but they are actually very connected. Studies have found a strong association between sleep and gastrointestinal disease, including IBS, and we think this is due to the gut-brain connection. The gut and brain are in constant communication through a bidirectional (goes both ways) pathway. Along this pathway, there is communication about hormone release and regulation, gene expression, and more! The gut-brain connection is also the connection between the gut and anxiety, stress, and depression. We know these can negatively affect digestion, especially for those with IBS, and we know that issues with digestion can lead to anxiety, stress, and depression. Sleep is also negatively affected by these, and we see the same bidirectional effect between the gut and our sleep as we do between the gut and the brain.

What does that mean? We are learning that poor sleep can negatively affect our digestion and our microbiome (makeup of bacteria in the gut), and poor gut health can negatively affect our ability to sleep and our quality of sleep. There are actually studies that have shown that a lack of sleep can reduce the number and variety of beneficial bacteria in the gut. This is huge, because with IBS we are concerned about the lack of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Even without IBS, this is a big deal because beneficial gut bacteria improve immunity, decrease inflammation, and play a major role in our overall health, including the communication to the brain that we discussed in the last paragraph.

So, what do you do? Our circadian rhythm regulates both our sleep-wake cycle, as well as our microbiome. If we want to improve our gut health, while also improving our sleep, we have to support our circadian rhythm. Here’s how:

  • Avoid excessive intakes of sugar and alcohol.

  • Avoid caffeine late in the day - it can stay in the system for 12 hours!

  • Get regular exercise & avoid high intensity exercise late at night.

  • Eat balanced meals throughout the day & avoid heavy meals or snacks close to bedtime.

  • Aim to go to bed & wake up around the same time each day - yes, even on the weekend!

  • Keep your stress in check with meditation, breath practices, exercise, journaling, yoga, and more!

  • Use essential oils like lavender to help your body fall asleep.

  • Reduce blue lights from screens later at night - turn off the TV and put your phone away at least 30 minutes before bedtime!

  • Create a bedtime routine to help the body settle and the mind release from your day so you can fall asleep more easily - some ideas: warm bath, light yoga, reading a book, and journaling.

The current recommendation for sleep is 7-9 hours each night, so hopefully these tips will help you hit within that range to support your gut health and reduce your IBS symptoms! As always, tracking your sleep can help you notice any patterns between the quantity and/or quality of your sleep and any IBS symptoms that occur. This is a major focus I have with my clients in my IBS Management Program. If you’d like personalized guidance through your IBS journey, apply for a free consultation here!