IBS Symptoms and How They Can Affect Your Sleep

Woman suffering from IBS symptoms showing signs of interrupted sleep

People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) live with uncertainty as it can be hard to predict when the IBS will trigger. In one week, your digestive system may operate optimally and gurgle fine. In the next, you start experiencing bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea. The primary characteristic of IBS is that symptoms will vary from one person to another. While some can experience diarrhea-predominant IBS, others will have conditions like constipation. It is also possible to have a mix of both at varying times. Studies show IBS symptoms are prevalent and usually come at very short intervals.

Most IBS patients report having poor quality sleep. Sleep disturbances are the most common non-intestinal complaints for people with IBS. In this blog post, we answer the question, “are IBS symptoms worse at night?” and what you can do to improve sleep quality.

Do IBS symptoms Occur More Frequently at Night?

Sleep is an integral part of improving a person’s health and wellness. But people with IBS tend to have sleep disturbances leading to poor sleep. 40% of IBS patients report having sleep problems such as falling asleep or sleeping for very short periods. These mainly occur due to IBS symptoms like diarrhea and abdominal pains interrupting sleep patterns.

There is still little research that links IBS with gastrointestinal disorders. But IBS patients have shown it can reduce sleep quality, cause significant sleep disturbances, and reduce light sleep. In one study, researchers found that IBS can affect aspects like total sleep time, the period it takes to fall asleep, as well as the amount of sleep for each stage. Sleep issues usually accompany ‘next-day’ abdominal pains, tiredness, and anxiety.

There is also thought that IBS sleep disorders are part of vicious cycles of improper sleep patterns that can lead to hypersensitivity of the gut. Other conditions that affect sleep quality and IBS symptoms include:

Sleep Apnea

This sleep disorder affects about 20% of the population. It causes sleep interruptions and lessens the quality of sleep at night. The common symptoms of sleep apnea are snoring, difficulty breathing at night, and a dry mouth.

Research has also found that people with sleep apnea are likely to have IBS increasing the severity of poor sleep. These findings are crucial when determining the best treatment for IBS. Discuss all your systems with a healthcare professional to see if it is necessary to test for sleep apnea.

Mood Disorders

Trouble with sleep is a classic feature of mood and psychiatric disorders that links it with IBS. Psychiatric require treatment that relates to the mind, emotions, and behaviors. It is best to recognize the uncontrolled psychiatric symptoms and discuss them with a healthcare provider.


This is the hormone produced by the brain to improve sleep. In a study to understand the effects of melatonin supplements for IBS patients, researchers found that 3 mg of melatonin before bed will decrease abdominal pain but does not seem to influence sleep quality. Additional studies will help to understand these effects and hopefully link IBS, gut microbiome, and sleep.

Equally important, digestive problems are the common causes of stomach pain at night. Other causes linked with IBS include:

What You Can Do

Working with a healthcare provider is a big step towards enjoying better sleep for IBS patients. But, there are various things you can do, including checking your sleep routine. Here are some tips to improve your sleep:

Track Your Symptom Patterns

Everyone will experience IBS symptoms differently. It is essential to keep track of your symptoms and identify the possible triggers on your road to recovery. The triggers are usually certain foods, caffeine, stress, the amount and quality of sleep, as well as the medications you use. In addition, IBS symptoms also vary in women based on their menstruation patterns.

IBS patients who have experienced the symptoms for a while will have a rough idea of what can kick their symptoms into high gear. You can keep track of your symptoms to determine not just what causes them but how much, when, and how fast. But go overboard without restricting yourself to the interruptions you get during sleep.

Record your emotional state and stress levels and detail things that make you feel excited or anxious. If you are on your period, keep track of your cycle. Travel is also an essential detail as it can cause changes in routine.

Avoid Trigger Foods Before Bedtime

IBS mainly affects the gut, meaning consuming certain foods can exacerbate the symptoms. Many trigger foods fall under the umbrella of FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides, and polyols). FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates that are difficult to digest and can lead to excessive fluid and gas.

Some of these include:

  • Foods containing polyols
  • High-fructose foods
  • Foods with lactose
  • Foods that contain oligosaccharides

Reduce or Eliminate Caffeine Intake Later in the Day

Caffeine is a stimulant and usually stays in the body for several hours. When you take coffee six hours before bed, you risk feeling wired when you hit the pillow. Caffeine can rile up your intestines, leading to diarrhea that will keep you awake during the night.

According to a 2021 study conducted on 3,362 Iranian adults, about 47% of the respondents who take about 106.5 milligrams (mg) of caffeine or more have a greater chance of developing IBS than those consuming less caffeine.

Getting Help From an Expert

Sometimes IBS symptoms fail to improve when with lifestyle changes. If you feel they are affecting your overall quality of life, it is best to visit a gastroenterologist. Receiving proper treatment for IBS symptoms can improve sleep and eliminate gastrointestinal issues.

Treatment will involve a combination of medication and dietary changes. The specifics of the treatment will vary based on the type of IBS affecting you:

  • Constipation subtype (IBS-C)
  • Diarrhea subtype (IBS-D)
  • Mixed subtype (IBS-M)

A survey of 1,562 U.S. gastroenterologists recommends specialty diet practices like:

  • 12% recommended a gluten-free diet
  • 18% recommended a low-fat diet
  • 18% recommended a low-fat diet
  • 45% recommended a high fiber diet
  • 45% recommended a reduced lactose diet
  • 77% recommended a low FODMAP diet

The Bottom Line

Gut health and sleep are linked; one issue will cause problems in the other. IBS can disturb your sleep, and the disruption will worsen, creating a negative feedback loop.

If IBS symptoms disrupt your nightly rest, the next step involves reaching out to a doctor. At Coastal Gastroenterology Associates, we have a multi-specialty group dedicated to working with you and understanding your health needs to offer the best treatment. Book your appointment today to get started.