Causes of sleep disturbances in IBD patients


The University of Bristol looks at how IBD can affect a person’s ability to sleep.


Sleep disturbances are very common in IBD and patients do not always want to turn to sleep medications.  This research will identify why people struggle to sleep and what can be developed to help people cope

Dr John Potokar, University of Bristol

What is this research looking at? 

Sleep disturbances in IBD are common, increasing during flare-ups but are still present when symptoms have settled down.  Studies show sleep problems reduce quality of life for people living with IBD and reduce their threshold to cope with symptoms such as pain and fatigue. Poor sleep may also worsen IBD by affecting how the body’s immune systems functions. 

Sleep promoting medications are the only option for people living with IBD at present. These may have unacceptable side effects and are not ideal given the chronic nature of IBD. Many people do not want to take further medicines and non-medication based options would potentially be better suited for people with IBD.  These include sleep and lifestyle education, developing coping strategies and talking therapies (cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT). 

What do researchers think this could this mean for people with IBD? 

Researchers hope this study will identify the unique and common types of sleep problems affecting people living with IBD and understand the impact of these sleep problems on the quality of life of people with IBD.  


Patients in this study described how their sleep had worsened after the onset of their IBD symptoms. People had problems falling asleep and kept waking during the night.  On average people reported only 4.5 hours of sleep a night. Many reasons were given for this lack of sleep including pain, bloating, needing to use the toilet or needing to drink water at night but also feeling anxious about things, including soiling the bed and their lack of sleep. 
IBD healthcare specialists recognised the importance of poor sleep in IBD, but not the extent or impact described by patients. Specialists found it difficult to get patients to talk about sleep issues. They felt a little powerless to help, with little to offer apart from basic advice and were not keen to suggest sleeping medications. 
None of the patients had tried any talking therapies aimed at improving sleep. Clinicians and patients thought a specific IBD orientated talking therapy including coping strategies to help people control their own sleep better could be beneficial. The findings of this research will help inform the design of non-medication treatment for sleep problems in people living with IBD. 

Who is leading the research: Dr John Potokar, University of Bristol

Our Funding: £19,288

Duration: 12 months

Official title of the application: Sleep disturbance in patients with inflammatory bowel disease

Tags: Sleep