• Ulcerative colitis can cause physical and emotional symptoms that make it difficult to sleep.
  • Adjusting your sleep position, meditating, practicing sleep hygiene, and changing your mealtimes could lead to better sleep.
  • Doctors and mental health professionals can also provide additional support.

Ulcerative colitis (UC) is known for its impact on your digestive system, but the condition can also affect many other parts of your health — including your sleep.

That’s partly because UC can cause several symptoms — including nausea and pain — that make it difficult to fall and stay asleep.

In fact, a 2014 study found that, on average, people with UC and other types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) slept only 4.5 hours per night, often because their pain, bloating, anxiety, and need to use the bathroom kept them up.

Research shows that not getting adequate sleep can increase your risk of UC flares and potentially reduce your quality of life, so it’s important to find ways to cope.

Here are some ways to help you sleep better with UC.

Certain sleep positions can worsen UC flares, depending on your symptoms or which side of your intestinal tract is most inflamed.

If you’re feeling pain, try sleeping on a different side or on your back, and see if that makes you more comfortable. You may consider keeping a sleep journal, noting your symptoms and sleep position, to help you keep track of what’s working.

Certain UC medications can make sleep more difficult. Corticosteroids, for example, are sometimes used to help manage UC flares, but they can also cause sleep disturbances, according to 2020 research.

If your UC medication is messing with your sleep, talk with a doctor about one of the following options:

  • switching treatments
  • adding something to help with sleep
  • changing the time of day you take your medication

A medical professional might be able to offer another treatment option that doesn’t impact your sleep.

You don’t have to manage insomnia or other sleep troubles on your own. A medical professional can help you pinpoint lifestyle changes and prescribe medications (if necessary) to manage UC symptoms and help you sleep better.

For example, if you’re experiencing abdominal pain or cramps at night, your healthcare professional might recommend that you take a pain reliever, such as acetaminophen. Or they might prescribe an antispasmodic for your cramps.

If worries about a bathroom emergency keep you up a night, a doctor may also recommend taking an antidiarrheal medication before bed, especially if you had a big meal or went out to dinner at a restaurant. The peace of mind may help promote better sleep.

In general, you might find it helpful to track your UC symptoms — especially those that cause sleep problems — so you can discuss them with a doctor. That way, you can figure out the source of what’s keeping you awake and work together to find a solution.

The research on the health effects of nighttime eating is mixed. But, if you find that eating a big meal before bed disturbs your sleep (like with an urge to use the bathroom in the middle of the night), you may find it helpful to eat dinner a little earlier.

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation recommends avoiding heavy meals and drinks close to bedtime. If you’re hungry late at night, consider a small snack that’s free from common UC triggers. These triggers include:

  • lactose
  • sugar
  • insoluble fiber
  • caffeine
  • spicy ingredients

Research has discovered a connection between UC and mental health conditions that can also impact your sleep.

In a 2018 study of 47 people with UC, poor sleep quality was associated with depression. Anxiety about UC has also been shown to create sleep problems.

Mental health conditions and physical symptoms sometimes are like a chicken and egg problem: It’s not always clear which one came first. But that also means finding ways to manage mental health concerns could have a positive impact on your sleep.

If you’re experiencing anxiety, depression, or any other mental health condition, consider seeking support from a professional, like a therapist. They can help you find ways to cope, which may also improve the quality of your sleep.

Meditation can provide a variety of benefits that help people with UC sleep better. Mindfulness meditation in particular has been shown to relieve some sleep disturbances, according to a 2018 meta analysis.

It may also help alleviate anxiety, which is a common source of sleep problems among people with UC.

A 2010 meta analysis showed that mindfulness-based therapy, which includes meditation, helps improve symptoms of anxiety. That, in turn, may make it easier to fall asleep.

Developing consistent sleeping habits, also known as sleep hygiene, can help you get better sleep.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), here are some habits to try:

  • Keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark.
  • Avoid big meals, alcohol, and caffeinated drinks close to bedtime.
  • Stick to a consistent sleep schedule (even on weekends).
  • Find time to exercise during the day.
  • Get rid of electronic devices, including smartphones, from the bedroom.

If cramps from UC make it hard to get some shut-eye, consider placing a heating pad on your belly. Electric heating pads or hot water bottles are tried and true pain relievers for abdominal cramps.

Consider using an electric heating pad equipped with a timer. That way, you can schedule it to shut off shortly after you fall asleep and reduce the risk of burns.

There are many over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids available — but not all of them are safe for people with UC.

Magnesium, for example, is sometimes promoted as a sleep aid. But, according to 2015 research, it can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms, like:

  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • nausea

Other OTC sleeping medications can also be addictive, so talk with a doctor before trying these products.

Many people with UC deal with a mix of physical and emotional symptoms that can make it hard to sleep. The good news is that there are a variety of practices that might help you sleep better with UC, such as:

  • switching medications
  • meditating
  • practicing sleep hygiene
  • using a heating pad
  • adjusting mealtimes
  • seeking mental health support

If UC is impacting your sleep, you may find it helpful to connect with a doctor. They can help you determine the root of your sleep problems and offer personalized solutions.