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Do you suffer from IBD and insomnia? You’re not alone

March 16, 2023 – More than a third of people with inflammatory bowel disease report trouble sleeping, with moderate insomnia or worse. And the more severe their insomnia, the more severe their IBD-related disability, according to a new study.

Lack of sleep is common with IBD, says lead researcher Alex Barnes, MD, a gastroenterologist and clinical lecturer at Flinders Medical Center in Bedford Park, Australia.

The link between insomnia and IBD has not been studied enough, Barnes says. But insomnia in people with other chronic health conditions has been linked to poorer quality of life.

Barnes and colleagues conducted an online survey of 670 people with IBD in Australia. They found that clinically significant insomnia was significantly related to active IBD, abdominal pain, significant anxiety and depression.

Diagnose and treat

The study results suggest that people with IBD should be screened for sleep disturbances, Barnes says. In the study, people had clinically significant insomnia if they scored 14 or higher on the Insomnia Severity Index.

Once identified, “treatment for insomnia is readily available — cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia — through psychologists or even in the form of smartphone apps,” Barnes says. Seeing a sleep specialist is another option and should be considered, especially if someone has significant insomnia while their IBD is mild or in remission.

When to See a Sleep Specialist

When asked if insomnia could be severe enough for a person to see a sleep specialist, Jocelyn Cheng, MD, spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, said the first step would be to confirm that the person has insomnia. This means ruling out another cause for the symptoms, which could include sleep apnea, poor sleep hygiene, or restless leg syndrome.

Once insomnia is confirmed, it is important to decide if it has a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. This may include participating in fewer social or work-related activities or having difficulty driving, making appointments or running errands, for example.

If no other reason can be found for the insomnia, or if your quality of life is significantly affected, a sleep expert is a good idea, says Cheng, who is also senior director of clinical research in neuroscience at Eisai Inc.

The study’s finding that more severe insomnia — more difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and/or waking up too early — is linked to worsening IBD symptoms is consistent with evidence from others. studies, Cheng said.

Insomnia could be a learned behavior from when people with IBD have flare-ups and have prolonged sleep disturbances to times when IBD is in remission, Barnes says.

Several tools for identifying insomnia exist, says Barnes, and it would be interesting to come up with one specific to IBD in the future.

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