How Your Sleep Habits Might Affect Your Bowel Functions

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Most of us are guilty of not getting enough shut-eye. Not only does a sleep debt ruin your mood and throw off your day, but it can also cause a whole host of health problems associated with chronic sleep deprivation such as heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression, impairment in immunity, lower sex drive, and even wreaks havoc to your guts. A few studies over the years have supported the notion that lack of sleep and poor sleep quality could be connected to an increased risk of cancer. 

The Connection Between Sleep And Your Gut Health

Sleep has a big impact on the microbes in your gut, but especially so when you aren’t sticking to a predictable sleep schedule. Whether you lack sleep or get too much of it, it is associated with your bowel patterns.

Our bodies follow a 24-hour sleep/wake cycle, also called our circadian rhythm. When this cycle is disrupted by sleeping less than the ideal amount of sleep per night, our intestinal cells and gut microbes are directly impacted. As a result, this can cause processes like digestion and excretion to be significantly slowed down.  

Lack of sleep can increase stress, which affects the gut. When you don’t get enough sleep, your hormones can become imbalanced, and cortisol (stress hormone) can surge. Increased stress can cause intestinal permeability issues—or something known as leaky gut—where food and toxins are able to pass through the intestine and into the bloodstream. This can lead to many health issues including bloating, inflammation, stomach pains, food sensitivities, and changes to the gut microbiome.

Digestive health experts have long believed that sleep quality and gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms such as bloating, constipation, and diarrhea are connected in some way, especially among people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Research even suggests that sleep disruptions might trigger flare-ups of inflammatory bowel disease. Sleep disorders and poor sleep may also affect the immune system and, in turn, GI health.

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Backed By Studies

Too much or too little sleep triggers constipation – this was noted in a study of nearly 15,000 adults conducted at the North Shore Medical Centre in Salem, Massachusetts

To determine if there is a link between the two, the study team looked at data from 14,590 adults aged 20 years and older who completed questionnaires on sleep and bowel health as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Sleep was classified into three categories – short (<7 hours), normal (7–8 hours), and long (>8 hours) – based on the US National Sleep Foundation standards and bowel pattern as either normal, constipation, or diarrhea based on stool formed and bowel movements each week.

The study found that short and long sleepers were 61 percent and 38 percent more likely, respectively, to report constipation vs normal sleepers. The study author concluded that normal sleep duration is thought to be essential for healthy bowel functions. 

According to the director of the GI Motility Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, people who are having periods of reduced quality sleep may subsequently be at risk for bowel disturbances. Shift workers who are on alternating shifts that don’t match with their circadian rhythm tend to have worsened IBS symptoms and people suffering from IBS tend to have worsened symptoms after a bad night of sleep. This adds credence to the idea that sleep and bowels are very intimately connected.

In Conclusion

Digestive health can play a role in how well someone sleeps, and sleep can affect how well the digestive system functions. Whichever comes first, sleep and gut health reinforce one another in a vicious cycle.

When we get too little sleep or too much, it throws our body out of whack and that includes our GI system, which functions via nerve signalling, hormones, and electrolyte balance.

If you’ve had only one or two nights of interrupted sleep, don’t ring the alarm bell yet. The longer you are sleep deprived, the more likely it is that you could experience digestive issues. It also depends on how resilient and healthy your body is and whether you have other medical conditions. But the longer the sleep deprivation goes on, the bigger impact it can have on your gut health.

It’s best to try and get seven to eight hours of sleep every night for a healthy GI and an overall healthy mind and body. When you get the right amount of shut-eye at the right times, you are naturally happier, healthier, and have a better quality of life.


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Health Freak Mommy
Author: Health Freak Mommy

A health freak mom to 3 teenage girls. Blogger since April 2007.