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Expert says poor sleep habits are contributing to irregular bowel movements

Not eating enough fibre? Not hitting your 30 minutes of recommended physical activity? Not keeping hydrated? We’ve grown up knowing that when things get a little stuck down there, it’s probably due to a combination of these three problems. However, what happens if your irregular bowel movements might have nothing to do with your diet or exercise habits? What happens if your sleeping patterns might be the major culprit?

This is what Kyle D. Staller, MD, MPH, instructor at Harvard Medical School and gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, is suggesting.

“Poor sleep is likely going to exacerbate or worsen certain gastrointestinal (GI) issues,” Staller tells Health.

Most recently, we’ve become aware of the importance of sleep and how it affects our wellbeing. What many people are unware of is the fact that research has also suggested gastrointestinal issues – which includes abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhoea, gas and bloating – and sleep quality are connected in some way, especially among people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

A 2011 study published in the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility examined the link between poor sleep and bowel movements. The researchers recruited healthy female full-time nurses working in a tertiary hospital who were asked to keep a bowel and sleep diary for two weeks. Of 60 nurses working regular hours during the day only, only eight experienced constipation symptoms. However, of 58 nurses working on rotating shifts involving working 4-8 night shifts per month, 14 experienced constipation symptoms. The study concluded that sleep disturbance, decreased wellbeing, and anxiety all contribute to bowel disturbance.

Staller agrees, noting that going several nights without quality rest can lead to an increase in discomfort in the following days. However, he also notes that the roles can also be reversed whereby your GI issues could be responsible for interfering with your sleep.

So, does poor sleep cause poop problems, or are poop problems ruining your sleep? It goes both ways, but prioritising your sleep schedule could be a preventative measure (especially if you’re living with GI discomfort or IBS) and will also help improve your overall wellbeing.

“It’s a way to potentially control symptoms, without going to the medication route,” Dr. Staller explains. “And many patients are interested in a more natural approach to their IBS.”

How to improve your sleep

Dr Justin Hundloe from GenesisCare Australia shares 13 ways you can improve your sleep patterns and get a good night’s rest easily and consistently… which will hopefully help with regular healthy runs to the john.

  1. Go to sleep at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning
  2. Refrain from taking naps during the day
  3. Go to bed only when you are drowsy
  4. Avoid caffeine and alcohol within six hours of bedtime
  5. Avoid the use of nicotine close to bedtime or during the night
  6. Obtain regular exercise, but avoid strenuous exercise four hours before bedtime
  7. Try and consume your last meal of the day by 8pm
  8. Minimise light, noise and extreme temperatures in the bedroom
  9. Follow a routine to help you relax before sleep i.e. read a book, listen to music, or take a bath
  10. Avoid using your bed for anything other than sleep or sex
  11. Try making a to-do list before you go to bed
  12. Avoid clock watching
  13. If you have ongoing sleep issues, seek professional medical advice

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