Is IBS pain at night ruining your sleep? – 12 remedies worth a try
By Jason Wooden, PhD | November 15, 2022
As many as a third of IBS patients struggle with poor sleep so it’s no surprise if IBS pain at night is keeping you awake. What’s important is to avoid a downward spiral since poor sleep can worsen pain and IBS. Fortunately, there are plenty of remedies for IBS pain that can help you sleep better
IBS and pain at night, not so perfect together…
If abdominal pain from IBS is waking you up at night, the frustration level understandably goes up a couple notches.
After all, what IBS does to your days is challenging enough. If it’s also ruining your sleep, that’s even more misery.
There are no hard numbers on how many IBS patients are up at night because of abdominal pain. (This is surprising since it’s the dominant IBS symptom).
However, you’re likely not the only IBS sufferer who’s awake since 40% of patients report having sleep problems.
Also, search online and you’ll find IBS patients in various forums frustrated from pain at night and desperate for remedies.
All the same, if the pain flares ups have become an ongoing issue that’s keeping you awake, you’ve now got a sleep problem on top of a gut problem.
Things can really get out of whack.
And because of the connections between the mind, gut, and sleep, it’s costing you in more ways than you might realize.
The good news is that there are practical things you can do to get your nights back on track.
We’re going to take a look at what you’re really up against and your options from A to Z to sleep better with IBS pain at night.
Why am I getting IBS pain flareups at night?
For starters, IBS is a condition in which there’s a problem with how the brain and gut work together. It’s because of this disconnect you get flare ups of abdominal pain and changes in bowel movement.
Normally, pain is a signal from your body telling you something is wrong.
However, IBS pain is different from other types of chronic pain since it’s not happening because of structural damage such as an ulcer. Instead, how your brain perceives pain is really out of whack.
There’s a major miscommunication the nerves in the brain and gut. Also, for some reason the nerves in the gut are EXTRA sensitive.
So, why do some people with IBS get pain flareups at night?
1) It could be how your body responds to IBS triggers. Obviously, everyone’s body is different and IBS symptoms can vary widely.
2) It could be the timing of your triggers. Are you more likely to eat the wrong foods or get anxious in the evening?
3) It could be because of other things besides IBS. While more research needs to be done, some of the factors that could be at play include:
The anti-inflammatory hormone cortisol drops to its lowest point at around midnight. Researchers have found that cortisol is lower in the evening in IBS patients.
Some people find that sleeping on the right side makes their IBS symptoms worse
Your circadian clock
The body has a natural ebb and flow. Research suggests that natural shifts in the body’s circadian clock can cause pain to peak at night
The stakes are higher than you think if IBS pain at night is keeping you from sleeping
Besides giving you an uncomfortable sensation, pain affects the body in other ways too. Your blood pressure may rise, your breathing may quicken, and stress hormones are released.
So, why is IBS pain so hard on us at night?
First off, pain makes it harder to relax and fall asleep. Secondly, you’ll wake up more during the night as you toss and turn to get more comfortable.
That’s the perfect recipe to keep you out of the deep restorative sleep you need to wake up feeling refreshed.
And if this happens night after night, you become chronically sleep deprived which can make your IBS days even more miserable.
Your brain doesn’t work as well and you’ll have a harder time coping.
Relationships and intimacy can suffer even more.
Did you know that insomnia can actually make pain worse? It can lower your pain threshold and tolerance.
If you’re not careful, you can get into a vicious cycle where poor sleep leads to more pain and pain leads to more poor sleep.
There’s also a strong association between IBS, depression, and insomnia. What they all have in common is mind-body connections.
Your mind, emotions, and body interact in powerful ways
As I mentioned earlier, IBS patients are more likely to sleep poorly.
People who sleep poorly are more at risk for stress, anxiety, and depression.
Stress, anxiety, and depression make it harder to fall asleep and harder to stay asleep. They can also worsen IBS symptoms.
The truth is if you’re experiencing IBS pain at night it’s doing more than waking you up. Because of all the connections between IBS symptoms, sleep, and mental health, the stakes are higher than you might realize.
Now, let’s look at what you can do about it.
Remedies: What to try for IBS pain at night
If you’re wondering how you can stop IBS pain at night, the good news is that there’s hope. You don’t have to slide into a cycle of poor sleep, pain, depression and anxiety, and more IBS.
Depending on your specific challenges and IBS triggers, there are plenty of practical remedies worth a try:
1) Know your triggers
If you haven’t already, start keeping track of the things that trigger your IBS flare ups. Also, pay attention to the time of day for specific triggers.
Whether it’s specific foods, stressful situations, or something else, knowing what they are is half the battle for managing their impact on your body and sleep.
2) Improve your sleep hygiene
I’ve already mentioned all the connections between sleep, pain, anxiety, depression, and IBS symptoms. It’s important to make the most of your sleep opportunities to help you avoid getting to a downward spiral.
To get the best possible sleep you can, make sure you’re practicing good sleep hygiene, the everyday habits that set the stage for quality sleep.
For better sleep hygiene, you should:
- Wake up and go to bed at the same time every day
- Physical activity
- Avoid naps
- Avoid large meals, alcohol, and stimulants such as caffeine before bedtime
- Maintain a bedtime routine
- Avoid TVs, laptops, and other electronics near bedtime
- Keep your bedroom dark, cool, quiet, & relaxing
3) Stress and anxiety management
Since stress is a factor for sleep and IBS symptoms, it’s important to do whatever you can to manage the stress in your life. It could be better self-care, boundary setting, improving your work-life balance, or managing expectations.
At night, relaxing music, aromatherapy, and relaxation exercises before bed can help calm the body and aid the transition to sleep.
4) Watch what you eat
Start paying more attention to what you eat. This can be helpful for both managing your IBS symptoms and sleep.
Keep a diary of what foods you eat and when you get a flareup. You certainly want avoid eating anything before bedtime that can worsen your IBS symptoms or may upset your stomach.
Instead, find foods that you enjoy that are also easy on your gut. Develop a practice around mindful eating.
Your doctor and a nutritionist can help you figure out a diet to support your health and recovery.
5) Physical activity
Some people notice a big difference in their IBS symptoms on the days they do something physical like taking a walk.
Physical activity can be great for insomnia and IBS. It’s a natural mood booster that can relieve stress, fight inflammation, and promote deep sleep.
It’s also great for pain and can aid digestion.
So get moving, whether it’s house work, dancing with your favorite tunes, playing with the kids, chair exercises, or just a walk around the neighborhood.
6) Breathing exercises
Deep breathing is a great way to calm the mind, relax the body, and reduce stress. Did you know that when you breathe deeply it sends a message to the brain to calm things down?
This can help prevent stress from triggering an IBS flareup and also aid the transition to sleep at bedtime.
7) Change your sleep position
Switching up how you sleep may make a difference for IBS pain at night.
In online forums, some patients say that sleeping on their back or left side improves their symptoms. Others say they find sleeping on the right side makes them more comfortable.
8) Music therapy
Studies have shown that music can promote relaxation and help relieve pain. It alleviates anxiety and stress which can contribute to pain.
Acupuncture, derived from traditional Chinese medicine, works by stimulating specific points on the body with thin needles. It’s been shown to be useful for a wide variety of ailments including pain.
Studies have confirmed that acupuncture can be helpful for treating pain and other symptoms in IBS patients.
11) Cognitive behavioral therapy
I’ve already mentioned the mind body connections for IBS symptoms.
Did you know that pain has biological, psychological, and emotional factors? A specialized type of counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, can identify and assist with changing thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors related to pain.
It can help change the way you cope with pain and change the stress response in the brain responsible for the release of anti-inflammatory chemicals that worsen pain.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for IBS (IFFGD)
12) See a doctor
If you’re not seeing any progress or your IBS pain at night is getting worse, it’s definitely worth seeing your doctor and gastroenterologist.
They can check for underlying issues, explore more options, and help you come up with a plan to better manage your symptoms.
Natural pain remedies worth a try for IBS pain at night
Prescription pain meds aren’t the only medicinals you can try for IBS pain at night. There’s a wide variety of natural actives that can help calm your IBS by fighting stress, anxiety, and pain to calm your IBS.
Before trying out a natural remedy, it’s strongly recommended that you check with your doctor and an alternative medicine specialist such as a naturopathic physician.
They can advise you about whether it’s right for you, possible side effects and drug interactions, dosing, and the best way to take it.
There’s growing interest in melatonin as a treatment for IBS. It’s a hormone that’s involved in regulating the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
Studies have shown melatonin can help relieve abdominal pain and improve quality of life for IBS patients.
Before trying it out, it’s a good idea to check with a doctor about dosing and whether it makes sense for you.
You can also try natural ways to boost your melatonin levels such as:
- natural sunlight exposure during the day
- avoiding caffeine
- eating melatonin rich foods
- avoiding bright electronic screens in the evening
CBD (cannabidiol) is derived from the hemp plant which is a cousin of the marijuana plant. Unlike marijuana, it does not contain the psychoactive THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) which causes a “high.”
Studies have shown CBD can help pain and anxiety. While more research is needed, studies suggest that CBD may be helpful for IBS pain.
Famous for its use in Indian curries, turmeric is well-known for its powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. It’s been used to help with ailments ranging from arthritis to heart disease.
Early research suggests it may also be beneficial for IBS patients.
4) Peppermint Oil
Peppermint oil is used topically to help with headaches, muscle aches, joint pain, and itching. It’s also used as an aromatherapy for pain and stress reduction.
A recent study looking at the data from 12 clinical trials concluded that peppermint oil is helpful for managing IBS symptoms.
Probiotics are live microorganisms such as bacteria or yeast that are intended to have positive health benefits when consumed.
An American College of Gastroenterology meta-analysis of more than 30 studies concluded that probiotics can be helpful for improving IBS symptoms including abdominal pain.
You may also be interested in:
1. Sleep and Irritable Bowel Syndrome, International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders website
2. Understanding and Managing Pain in Irritable Bowel Syndrome, International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders website
3. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Cleveland Clinic
4. What Is “Painsomnia”?, tylenol.com
5. HORMONES AND IBS, UNC Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders
6. Why pain feels worse at night, 2022, Ars Technica
7. Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation, MyHealth.Alberta.ca
8. Can acupuncture treat irritable bowel syndrome?, 2022, Medical News Today
9. Melatonin for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. World J Gastroenterol. 2014 Mar 14; 20(10): 2492–2498.
10. Can people use CBD for irritable bowel syndrome?, 2021, MedicalNewsToday
11. A Meta-Analysis of the Clinical Use of Curcumin for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), J Clin Med. 2018 Oct; 7(10): 298.
12. The impact of peppermint oil on the irritable bowel syndrome: a meta-analysis of the pooled clinical data, BMC Complement Altern Med. 2019; 19: 21.
13. American College of Gastroenterology Monograph on Management of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. American Journal of Gastroenterology: June 2018 – Volume 113 – Issue – p 1-18
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