Breaking the Bad Sleep - Bad IBS Cycle
Anxiety, Sleep, and IBS
The majority of the clients I see for IBS also struggle with poor sleep. There is good evidence that links better sleep patterns with better control of IBS, and this isn’t all that surprising when we recognize the central role that sleep plays in regulating and coordinating all of our body’s natural rhythms.
Poor sleep can be both a cause and an effect of IBS. In other words, poor sleep can cause IBS, and IBS can disrupt sleep.
In addition to the “gut-sleep connection,” the “gut-brain connection” is another important area of exploration. Our expanding knowledge of this pathway uncovers the need to understand how the brain is generating anxiety, and how that anxiety leads to poor sleep and poor gut functioning.
What is an Axious Gut?
The latest research reveals that when certain bacteria gain an upper hand in the gut, the brain develops an anxious outlook.
The body goes into hyper-arousal mode. Everything, including other people, appear more threatening. Digestive health goes off the rails, with diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and pain increasing. Social relationships suffer, too, when we start to favor avoidance over connection.
But, we’ve also learned that the influence moves in the other direction such that anxiety is also capable of causing bacterial imbalances in the gut. Anxiety alters our microbiome in ways that make it harder for the body’s systems, including the gut, to remain well-regulated. So, reducing anxiety, regardless of the source, is an important component of IBS self-management.
How Can Sleep Help?
Sleep patterns sit right at the intersection of brain and gut rhythms. When IBS is active, sleep disturbances increase. When anxiety levels are higher, being able to fall and stay asleep is a major challenge.
But, because everything in the body is connected to a multi-directional communication network, focusing on getting good sleep not only reduces anxiety, it also helps to re-regulate gut functioning to reduce IBS symptoms. So, what can you begin doing right away?
Creating Conditions for Good Sleep
Here are tried and true methods for restoring sleep to reduce anxiety and increase IBS control.
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
This involves synchronizing your body with the natural rhythms of sunrise and moonrise. Slow down in the evening. Turn down lights and lower sounds as evening falls. Disconnect from electronic devices.
Approach getting good sleep as essential as getting good nutrition. (I offer much more on sleep and IBS control in our Free Mini-Course and, of course, in our full IBS Relief Now program).
Develop a pre-sleep mental and physical quieting routine. That may involve meditation, prayer, a warm bath, a yogic shavasana relaxation practice, self-hypnosis or guided imagery, a slow and leisurely walk, or sipping a cup of chamomile tea.
Try Natural Supplements
Research has shown that intermittent use of natural supplements to be helpful in obtaining good sleep for certain individuals. This should be undertaken after consulting with a qualified health professional who knows you and your specific health status.
But, melatonin, magnesium, zinc, glycine, L-theanine, passion flower, and valerian root have all shown variable degrees of benefit when used appropriately.
Get Out and Get Moving
Increasing activity levels during the day has been proven to have a major benefit in improving sleep at night. This doesn’t have to be vigorous exercise. Walking is the most universally accessible and widely beneficial movement activity in which you can engage.
Self Reflective Journaling
Finally, consider developing a journaling practice taking 10-15 minutes to jot down, without self-censorship, what’s on your mind.
It is a good time to gain control over runaway worries. It is a time to develop the practice of writing down three things for which you are grateful. It is a time to identify fear or worries or matters about which you are angry and learn to let them go through imagery or breathing practices or other proven approaches.
Regardless of the paths and practices you choose, bringing together good sleep, improved IBS control, and a more optimistic and positive outlook is a well-established way of regaining control of both your gut and your life. Sweet dreams!