7 Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep with Ulcerative Colitis


When Sahara Fleetwood-Beresford was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (UC) in 2007, it kicked off an ongoing quest to achieve better sleep. Between surgeries for ileostomy and the associated difficulties of living with bags and pouches, chronic and acute pain, and all the other challenges that come from living with UC, she was only able to get three hours of sleep a night. Over time, by researching and practicing good sleep hygiene habits — like getting regular exercise, limiting caffeine, and establishing a relaxation routine — Fleetwood-Beresford increased that to 6.5 to 7.5 hours a night, according to an essay she wrote in 2022 for

If you have UC and are going through sleep difficulties, know that you’re not alone — over 75 percent of people with active inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), including UC, report sleep disturbances. UC presents a number of sleep-related challenges. Abdominal pain, cramps, frequent bowel movements, and other difficulties can prevent or interrupt your sleep. But as Fleetwood-Beresford attests, the fight for good sleep is well worth it.

Poor sleep is associated with higher levels of inflammatory markers in the blood, which in turn has been linked to an increased experience of pain. Chronic pain and sleep have also been found to have a two-way relationship, with each one exacerbating the other.

Your first priority is to get your UC under control, says Dawn Beaulieu, MD, a gastroenterologist and professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, where she created the first dedicated IBD clinic in the United States that’s focused on functional medicine, or a holistic approach to treatment. “First and foremost, you want to keep your active disease under control, so work with your doctor to get into remission,” she says.

The relationship between sleep and active disease runs both ways, says Neilanjan Nandi, MD, a gastroenterologist at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia. “People with IBD who get more sleep are less likely to experience flares,” he says.

But getting your UC into remission is only the beginning, Dr. Beaulieu adds. “It’s important for IBD patients to realize that they’re not helpless, that there are things they can take control of on a day-to-day basis to improve not only their sleep but their overall quality of life.”

As with all lifestyle changes, take things slow, set attainable goals, and figure out what’s best for you. “If you try to change everything about your sleep all at once, you’re setting yourself up for failure,” cautions Beaulieu. “Set manageable goals, know that not every piece of advice you read is going to apply to you, and in time you can create a routine that works for you.”


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