Crohn’s Disease and Poor Sleep: Symptom or Cause?

Disturbed sleep and active Crohn’s disease go hand-in-hand, which is probably not a surprise to anyone who has experienced the pain, diarrhea, cramping, night sweats, general malaise, and other agony of a flare. Added to that, the steroids that are often prescribed to calm a flare down have the often unwelcome side effect of causing insomnia. Common sense alone will tell us that lack of rest contributes to poor health and likely causes a vicious cycle of compounding problems that makes it even more difficult to recover from a flare, and scientific studies like this one published in 2011 in the journal Gut support the connection.

As someone who has lived with Crohn’s disease for over 20 years, I definitely concur. I can recall times of disease flare up when I woke up not just once during the night to rush to the restroom, but as many as four or five times. Sheer exhaustion would cause me to fall back asleep in between trips to the toilet, but it was never refreshing and I started the day feeling already fatigued. On my worst days, I would set my morning alarm clock with an hour of buffer time so that after my shower I could lay back down and rest before going to work. That would go on for many days, even weeks in a row… I think back at that now and am amazed that I did it.

Today I am grateful that my Crohn’s disease is much less active, thanks in large part to the real food diet I eat along with advanced medication, and I typically do not have severe gastrointestinal issues that cause sleepless nights. On the contrary, I have been feeling for a while that the inverse is more common. That is, poor sleep seems to lead to what I call “mini-flares” – a day or two of overt symptoms that I can’t attribute to any other cause.

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