Written by Kimberley Gittens, RD on behalf of Rachel McBryan, RD 

Healthy sleeping patterns are an important element of managing your IBS. This is because your gut health and sleep quality have a complex relationship. Not only does your gut health affect your sleep quality, but your sleep quality also affects your gut health.

Impact of Your Gut Health on Your Sleep

GI Symptoms at Night

GI symptoms can negatively impact the amount and quality of sleep you get. GI discomfort or pain can make it harder for you to fall asleep and stay asleep throughout the night. Additionally, regular trips to the bathroom during the night can disrupt your sleep pattern and leave you feeling fatigued during the day. On top of this, stress and anxiety around your GI symptoms can make it harder for you to relax and fall asleep at night.

Impacts of Mental Health 

Poor gut health is associated with mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety, which can make it harder for you to get some quality z’s throughout the night. Additionally, poor gut health can impair the absorption of essential vitamins and minerals and increase your risk of deficiency. Some nutrient deficiencies are linked to changes in mood and emotional well-being.

Gut-Brain Axis

Your gut and brain are in constant communication through what is known as the gut-brain axis. This “axis” plays an important role in regulating many physiological and psychological functions including, your digestion, mood and emotions.

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Impact of Poor Sleep on Your Gut Health 

Impact on Your Gut Bacteria

There are millions of tiny bacteria living in your gut. These bacteria help digest food, produce vitamins and even support your immune system. Unfortunately, not getting enough sleep can disrupt your delicate balance of gut bacteria, and contribute to GI problems. Your gut bacteria play an important role in both the digestion of the food you consume, as well as your overall health.

Increased Gut Permeability (Leaky Gut)

Poor sleep is also associated with increased intestinal permeability, more commonly known as leaky gut. In a normal, healthy gut, the lining of your intestine acts as a selective barrier that prevents harmful substances from being absorbed. With leaky gut, the lining of your intestine is compromised. This allows harmful substances and bacteria to enter your blood, which can trigger inflammation and digestive concerns.

Changes in Gut Motility

Your quality of sleep can also impact the movement of food throughout your GI tract. Poor sleep can negatively affect the rhythmic contractions of the muscles of your gut, which can lead to irregular bowl movements, bloating and discomfort.

Raised Cortisol Levels

Not getting enough sleep can increase the production and release of the stress hormone, cortisol. Elevated cortisol levels are associated with gut inflammation and can exacerbate your GI symptoms. Learn more about the impact of cortisol levels on your GI symptoms from the exercise article

    Journalling can help reduce stress and improve your sleep quality.

    Tips for Better Sleep

    Establishing a Regular Sleep Schedule

    Creating a regular sleep schedule, and sticking to it, can help regulate your body clock (circadian rhythm). Over time, this can keep your body on the same page as your day-to-date schedule and teach your body when to release sleep-inducing hormones, such as melatonin. A regular sleep schedule can improve your sleep efficiency and consistency by helping you fall asleep faster.

    Creating a Relaxing Bedtime Routine

    As relaxing as it might sound to watch a few episodes of your favourite show before bedtime, it could be negatively affecting your sleep. Bright light from TVs and other screens can suppress your body’s production of melatonin, while TV shows and movies can stimulate your mind, making it harder to relax and go to sleep. Instead you can try activities such as reading, medication or even gentle stretching to help you relax before bedtime.

    Avoiding Stimulants Before Bed

    Stimulants such as caffeine and tobacco can disrupt your sleep, and trigger your IBS symptoms. Consuming stimulants before bed can make it harder for you to fall asleep, and reduce your overall sleep time. Stimulants block the neurotransmitter (adenosine) which promotes sleepiness, making you more alert and awake. Limiting your intakes of stimulants before bed can ensure a more restful sleep.

    Avoiding Alcohol Before Bed

    Avoiding alcohol before bed is another way to improve your sleep quality. Although alcohol may make you feel drowsy and help you fall asleep faster, there are many ways it can negatively impact your sleep. Consuming alcohol can disrupt your normal sleep architecture by suppressing your REM sleep. REM is the stage of sleeping where restorative processes, learning and memory consolidation occur.

    Alcohol can have a negative impact on your sleep quality.

    Identify Trigger Foods

    Identifying and avoiding your trigger foods can eliminate middle-of-the-night bathroom trips and improve your quality of sleep.

    Not sure what your trigger foods are? No problem! Working with a dietitian can help you identify your trigger foods and eliminate them from your diet with tasty swaps and alternatives.

    Managing Stress and Anxiety

    Stress and anxiety can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Practicing stress-reducing techniques before bed can help improve your sleep. Some examples include, journalling, deep breathing, meditating and gentle yoga. Managing your stress and anxiety can help improve both your gut health, and your sleep quality.

    Take Away

    Healthy sleeping patterns are essential in managing your IBS symptoms. There are many ways for you to build a healthy sleeping pattern, including establishing a regular sleep schedule, creating a bedtime routine and avoiding trigger foods before bed.

    If you’re struggling to identify your trigger foods or need help implementing dietary changes to improve your gut health, consider booking a call with a registered dietitian. We can help you create a personalized nutrition plan that works for your lifestyle and health goals.

    Say Goodbye to Your GI Symptoms

    Working with a Registered Dietitian can help you learn to enjoy food again, while eliminating your IBS symptoms. Book a FREE discovery call to get started!


    American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.).

    Bhandari, S., & Andrews, C. N. (2018). Sleep and the gastrointestinal system. Neurogastroenterology & Motility, 30(1), e13166. https://doi.org/10.1111/nmo.13166

    Irwin, M. R., & Cole, S. W. (2011). Reciprocal regulation of the neural and innate immune systems. Nature Reviews Immunology, 11(9), 625–632. https://doi.org/10.1038/nri3042

    National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). How much sleep do we really need? https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need

    Palagini, L., & Baglioni, C. (2018). Sleep and mental disorders. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 31(4), 346–353. https://doi.org/10.1097/YCO.0000000000000421

    Rao, S. S. C., Yu, S., Fedewa, A. (2015). Systematic review: dietary fibre and FODMAP-restricted diet in the management of constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 41(12), 1256–1270. https://doi.org/10.1111/apt.13167

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    Kimberley is a Registered Dietitian, licensed in Ontario. She helps clients across Ontario control their blood sugars and reduce their risk of chronic conditions.