Crohn’s and Sleep: What’s the Connection?

We all have the occasional sleepless night. However, when sleeplessness persists, it can have a detrimental effect on your physical well being, especially if you have Crohn’s disease. Sleep modulates the immune system, and a regular good night sleep is a key component of good health. Insomnia, or trouble sleeping, often goes hand in hand with other medical conditions.

Crohn’s patients often struggle with sleeplessness, even when their disease is not active. Although there is little scientific research on sleep disruption and Crohn’s, a study reported in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology reports that sleep deprivation does affect quality of life and can cause gastrointestinal symptoms that affect the severity of the disease or increase the risk of flare-ups. Lack of sleep also limits your ability to cope with the disease. Ensuring that you get enough sleep should be part of your overall treatment for Crohn’s.

The low energy, inability to concentrate, and moodiness you experience when you don’t get enough sleep really is all in your head. According to the Academy of Sleep Medicine, insomnia is linked to low levels of a chemical in the brain called GABA, which is the brain’s “brake fluid.” GABA helps stop the transmission of nerve impulses. In adults with chronic insomnia, GABA is about 30 percent lower than in adults who get a good night’s sleep. Low levels of GABA means the brain can’t slow down and instead, races.

In addition to the negative effect on your general quality of life, chronic insomnia increases your risk for other health issues, such as depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and obesity. Undetected and untreated, insomnia increases your use, and the cost, of healthcare spending.

Experts recommend you get at least seven hours of sleep every day. Here are some tips for getting a better night’s rest.

  1. Maintain a schedule from day to day. This means going to bed and getting up at the same time each day. Avoid naps if possible. When you feel tired at night, go to bed.

  2. Engage in rituals. Doing the same thing, such as brushing your teeth, every day before you go to bed trains your body to prepare for sleep. You may find a warm bath or a cup of herbal tea are rituals that work well for you.

  3. Avoid alcohol, coffee, nicotine, and exercising too close to bedtime. Yes, exercise is important. Just do it earlier in the day.

  4. Limit your activities in bed to sleep and romance. That includes no late TV—or any TV for that matter. And stay off the Internet. You may believe watching TV or surfing the Internet are relaxing activities, but in reality, they stimulate dopamine in your brain, which keeps you awake.

  5. Create an environment that’s conducive to sleep. Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark and not too warm. Melatonin, a hormone in your brain that regulates your body’s internal clock, is activated by darkness.

If your sleeplessness persists, talk to your doctor. Your investment in a good night’s sleep is one of the best investments you can make in your health.