Sleep is essential for good health and lack of good quality sleep is a serious problem which afflicts millions. It is essential for us to get more or less eight hours of good quality sleep in a routine. Our bodies love routines for the basics of life like eating, sleeping and toileting. Research shows that this frees us up to be more productive and creative in our everyday lives.
How sleep helps your IBS
- Sleep helps you control your emotions and behaviour. Stress can cause IBS symptoms even if you are eating a balanced low Fodmap diet. Sleep deficiency has been linked to depression. And we know that IBS and depression are linked.
- Sleep deficiency increases the risk of obesity because sleep helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin). When you don’t get enough sleep, your level of ghrelin goes up and your level of leptin goes down. This makes you feel hungrier than when you’re well-rested. With IBS, we must not eat too much at any one time so hunger is our enemy.
- Sleep affects how your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls your blood glucose (sugar) level. Sleep deficiency results in a higher than normal blood sugar level, which may increase your risk for diabetes. You do not need diabetes, a very serious disease, as well as IBS.
There are many other general health benefits you gain from a good night’s sleep. It improves learning – while you’re sleeping, your brain forms new pathways to help you learn and remember information. Sleep also helps you pay attention, make decisions, and be creative. Sleep is involved in the healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Thus keeping away heart disease, strokes etc. In general, it helps build your immune system and fight common infections.
What causes sleeping difficulties?
As long as there are no underlying physiological and psychological disorders, the following may cause bad sleep:
- Stress – large or small.
- Drinking alcohol or caffeine-containing drinks in the evening.
- Exercising close to bedtime.
- Following an irregular morning and night-time schedule.
- Working or studying right before getting into bed.
- The room being too hot or cold, too noisy or too brightly lit.
- Interruptions from children or other family members.
- The habits of your sleep partner, like snoring or restlessness.
- Physical problems that cause pain.
- Medications such as decongestants, steroids and some medicines for high blood pressure, asthma, or depression.
Rules for getting a good night’s sleep
- No caffeine or alcohol for four hours before bed. These should be limited anyway because both are gut irritants for those with IBS.
- No food for three hours before bed so that most digestion is finished. This means that digestive issues should not affect your sleep.
- No liquids for an hour before bed to avoid waking up with a need to visit the bathroom.
- Stop all electronics at least one hour before bed.
- No studying or working for an hour before bed.
Tips for getting to sleep
Once you have a routine in place that works, you may still occasionally have trouble getting to sleep or you may wake in the night and find it hard to get back to sleep. I have a couple of tips to help with this.
- Under no circumstances (except to visit the bathroom), get out of bed or turn the light on.
- It is key to focus your mind on something other than your random thoughts. Our minds are powerful, independent creatures, but we can control them with effort, consistency and determination. This is what I try if I wake and can’t get back to sleep. I pick a topic like countries in the world or girl’s names – anything with a list – then I go through the alphabet and say one country for each letter. So, Austria, Botswana, Canada, Denmark etc. When you get stuck and can’t think of one, try for a bit but then move on. The idea is to engross the mind in what it is doing so those unwanted thoughts don’t dominate. After you have done this consistently for several nights, your body will get the signal that this is about going to sleep. I seldom get past D these days. It’s about creating new pathways in the brain with associations. In this case the association is: alphabet game=sleep. The first time you try this, you will get to Z and will have to start another list. The pathway in your brain will take about a week to form so you have to persevere until then.
- A simple alternative I sometimes use when I am still a bit sleepy is to breathe rhythmically and repeat a word or phrase over and over again until I nod off. I sometimes use, “No thinking” as my repeated phrase or sometimes the whole sentence, “I feel calm and relaxed.” It invariably works but training is required before it happens so don’t expect quick, consistent results for about a week. A pathway in your brain is forming and this takes time.
Once you are getting eight hours of good quality sleep in a routine, you will feel like a new person and no longer a walking, talking, jet-lagged zombie.