Last updated: November 2021
One challenging aspect about IBD is it can interrupt sleep. Most of us need 6 to 8 hours to feel refreshed. This is often difficult with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, since we frequently have to run to the bathroom throughout the night. Or we might have bouts of abdominal pain keeping us up for hours.
This can be a double-whammy. My Crohn’s is tough enough. Throw in lost sleep, which is important for bodily repair and general well-being, and we can really grow overwhelmed.
Not sleeping due to pain
Most nights have been manageable for me lately. That said, there have been random nights where I didn’t sleep much. That happened recently. In the morning I was grumpy and out of sorts. Why? Because I woke up at 2 a.m. in pain and couldn’t fall back asleep for hours.
I kept active though. I spent two hours watching news and a Netflix documentary and then read some articles online. I took a bath. Finally, around 5 a.m., the pain subsided and I fell asleep.
I have found that when feeling sick the best thing to do is get out of bed and distract myself from my symptoms. I'll read a book, write a blog post, watch a movie, answer emails, or in some other way put the focus on an activity unrelated to my own agony. This doesn't make the pain go away, but it does make the suffering more tolerable.
My advice for how to sleep with Crohn's
This scenario reminds me of a quote often applied to the creative process: “You can't drive the Brahman bulls, you have to drift with them.” This advice seems to apply to managing IBD as well. We want to be the pilot. Set our own schedule. Tell the disease to play by our rules.
You can’t bother me now, I have a big presentation tomorrow, we tell ourselves. But it doesn’t work like that. It bothers us when IT feels like it. Hence, with IBD, it may really be better to drift with those Brahman bulls in order to keep our sanity.
I didn’t always think this way. When ill in the night I used to roll around in bed, trying unsuccessfully to fall back asleep. This would only compound my suffering. I’d get so frustrated I could scream. I have to be up early, I’d tell myself. My mental anguish would compound my physical anguish till I felt like I was losing it.
Finally, I realized there was a better way: acceptance. Choosing to engage in some sort of distracting activity and waiting to try and sleep till I feel better made the situation more manageable.
I try not to focus on forcing sleep
I am generally way less overwhelmed now when I start feeling sick. I don’t like it. I’m still in agony and my sleep is still interrupted, but it is better to go with the flow than to try to force a specific outcome.
Poor sleep is a major challenge for IBD patients. It makes it hard to function optimally. It further compounds the fatigue brought on by Crohn's disease. A great way to manage it is to distract yourself till the discomfort subsides.
Have you had trouble sleeping with IBD? What strategies help you cope? Thanks for reading and, as always, feel free to comment below.
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