Ulcerative colitis may cause physical and emotional symptoms that affect your sleep. Adjusting your sleep position, meditating, and practicing sleep hygiene might help you sleep better.

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.

A 2017 study found that, on average, people with UC and other types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) slept only 4.5 hours per night. This was largely due to UC symptoms, such as pain, bloating, and needing to use the bathroom.

Not getting adequate sleep may increase your risk of UC flares and potentially reduce your quality of life, so it’s important to find ways to cope.

Here are 9 ways to help you sleep better with UC.

Certain sleep positions may 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 to see if that makes you more comfortable. Keeping a sleep journal and noting your symptoms and sleep position can help you keep track of what’s working.

Certain UC medications like corticosteroids can make sleep more difficult.

If you think your UC medication is affecting 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 alone. A medical professional could suggest 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, they may recommend that you take a pain reliever, such as acetaminophen. Or they might prescribe an antispasmodic for your cramps.

They could also recommend taking an antidiarrheal medication before bed if worries about a bathroom emergency affect your sleep. The peace of mind may help promote better sleep.

It’s important to track UC symptoms 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.

A 2021 study using 2003–2018 data from the American Time Use Survey found that eating within 1 hour of going to bed may affect your quality of sleep.

Similarly, a 2020 review found that eating within 3 hours of bedtime could cause you to wake up more during the night. This may be caused by gastrointestinal symptoms like acid reflux and heartburn.

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 may 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 linked to sleep problems.

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

Meditation may provide a range of benefits, including improved sleep. A 2018 meta-analysis suggests that mindfulness meditation may help relieve some sleep disturbances.

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. This may include an electric heating pad or hot water bottle.

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. However, not all of them are safe for people with UC.

Magnesium, for example, is sometimes promoted as a sleep aid. However, too much magnesium may lead to gastrointestinal symptoms, such as:

  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • nausea

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

Why are ulcerative colitis symptoms worse at night?

There aren’t any studies that specifically explain why or if symptoms of UC are worse at night compared to the day. But, if it seems like your symptoms are more bothersome at night, it could be because you’re not distracted like you are during the day. UC symptoms during a flare are also a common cause of trouble sleeping.

What time of day is colitis worse?

There isn’t a common time of day when UC symptoms are worse. This varies for each individual and depends on several factors, such as daily events, eating habits, and disease severity. That said, symptoms may be worse when you wake up because this is when intestinal activity kicks off in preparation for the day.

What side should I sleep on with ulcerative colitis?

If you’re living with UC, finding the best sleeping position may take some trial and error. For example, sleeping on the side opposite of that where there is inflammation in your colon may provide relief.

What helps calm ulcerative colitis?

Several tips may help you manage UC symptom flare-ups, including:

If you’re living with UC, you may experience physical and emotional symptoms that can make it hard to sleep.

Fortunately, a variety of practices might help you sleep better. These may include switching medications, practicing sleep hygiene, and using heating pads.

Speak with a healthcare professional if UC is impacting your sleep. They can help you identify triggers and develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.

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