Lack of Sleep While In The Hospital

When most people who don’t have a chronic illness think of a hospital, they generally look at hospitals as a place to rest and get well. I mean, that IS technically what they are meant for. However, what most fail to realize is that sleep does not happen in the hospital. Relaxation does not happen while in the hospital. I say this as a patient with inflammatory bowel disease so maybe sleep and relaxing happens when you are there for other reasons. I can’t comment, but what I can talk about is my thoughts and experiences having spent way more time in the hospital than anyone ever wants to for IBD.

I have received some pretty ridiculous comments from people over the years. For example, after a two week hospital stay, I could barely walk so my dad was helping me get to the car. In the parking lot, we ran into someone we knew who told me how lucky I was to have had the chance to be in the hospital and “catch up on my reading and relax with room service.”

Question: Anyone with Crohn’s Disease or ulcerative colitis feel thankful they are frequent hospital patients because it gives them a chance to catch up on reading/television and enjoy room service? Ah, that sounds more like a spa or nice hotel to me.

I didn’t respond to her. I mean, what was there to even say aside from rolling my eyes.

Anyway, I think we can all agree the hospital is the last place a person actually gets sleep and while I understand the reason for it, it is absurd to me that they expect anyone to heal or recover without sleeping - one of the most essential functions needed to remain alive and functional.

For those who are unaware of what I am referring to in the hospital, let me tell you some reasons why sleep isn’t on the agenda during a hospital stay:

Vital Signs:

Blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen level and temperature. Vital signs generally need to be taken every four hours while a patient is in the hospital. After surgery, it was always every two hours for me. This isn’t a painful process but having someone come into your room every 2-4 hours really impacts a person’s ability to sleep.

Blood Drawings/IV Placement.

Blood drawings often happen daily and very early. For patients who have poor veins, both blood drawings and the insertion of an intravenous line can be nerve wracking and upsetting. This can cause anticipatory anxiety and then an inability to fall back to sleep once the task is completed.


After surgery, it is obvious that a person will be suffering from post operative pain and despite what you see on television and in the movies, most of us are not doped up on amazing drugs with no ability to feel anything. We feel a lot. For non-surgical patients, there is an enormous amount of pain that can come with a flare up, fistula, abscess, blockage, or any other IBD-specific complication.


Laying in a hospital bed with IVs and oftentimes at least one additional tube (for ex, NG tube) can be very uncomfortable and make sleeping difficult, to say the least.

Mental Angst.

The emotional toll of being hospitalized is different for everyone but overall, it is not a pleasant experience. Missing out on events/activities can be devastating; especially if it is a pattern in a person’s life. Fear is something I always experience when I am in the hospital. I am scared about so much - what is currently happening, how it will impact my future, wondering if things will ever get better, etc. Feeling like a burden on loved ones is also upsetting while in the hospital. Guilt is one of the most common emotions among IBD patients. Post traumatic stress disorder is also common, and under-diagnosed, in people who suffer from a chronic illness. Being in the hospital IS traumatizing, especially when your body is being violated, and that can definitely cause insomnia and heightened alert. All of these emotional parts of being inpatient, along with many others not mentioned, can impact a person’s ability to get some much needed rest.

While I know a person is in the hospital to be monitored very closely, in every conceivable way, I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that hospitals are made out to be this amazing, tranquil place where you are always cared for. I am not saying many hospitals and their staff don’t do an excellent job at patient care, but what I am saying is that no matter how you spin it: a hospital is not a place to rest. It is a place to become more stabilized so you can rest at home and follow up on an outpatient basis.

Going days/weeks/months without adequate or any sleep is not something to take lightly, so if you feel exceptionally emotional or even “crazy” while in the hospital or afterwards, sleep deprivation could be partly to blame.

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