7 Unexpected Ways Sleep Affects Your Poop
Sleep is big part of your overall health, since it impacts things like your immune system, energy levels, and even your mental wellbeing. But did you know sleep can affect your poop, as well? While it may seem utterly disconnected, sleep plays a role in how often you poop, the types of bowel movements you have, and even things like gastrointestinal (GI) disorders.
"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 signaling, hormones, and electrolyte balance," family and emergency medicine doctor Janette Nesheiwat, MD , tells Bustle. "It's best to try and get [seven to eight] hours of sleep."
If you're sleeping well, and doing other goods things for your health — like eating nutritious foods, getting enough exercise, and so on — your gut will thank you. "Signs that you are sleeping properly are painless bowel movements usually occurring twice per day," Dr. David Greuner, of NYC Surgical Associates, tells Bustle. "These movements produce poop with a defined shape, colored medium to dark brown."
If you're sleeping too much, too little, or struggling with a sleep disorder that makes it difficult to sleep well, you may notice that you have bowel changes as a result. Read on for some poop problems experts say may be related to sleep, as well as what to do about them.
1. Sleepiness & Constipation
Have you ever been too tired to make a nutritious breakfast? Or so sleepy you snacked on sugary foods all afternoon, in order to stay awake? While these things are OK to do on occasion, they can cause bowel-related issues over time.
"When you’re lacking sleep you're less likely to make helpful food choices, like [choosing] refined carbs and simple sugars over fiber-packed whole grains and veggies," Colleen Christensen, RD, tells Bustle. "These less nutritious food choices reduce fiber intake, which can cause constipation."
You can always drink more water, move more, and eat fiber-rich foods in order to relieve constipation. But making sure you get enough sleep in the first place can be a big help, too. "Keeping a consistent sleep schedule can help you make more nutritious food choices," Christensen says, "which can keep your pooping schedule regular, too!"
2. You Might Have Diarrhea
Leading a sleepy life can cause you to make lifestyle choices that may result in constipation. But it can go the other way, too, and cause diarrhea.
"When you're sleep deprived, your brain releases more [of the hormone] ghrelin, which makes you hungry," Matt Ross, co-owner and COO of The Slumber Yard, tells Bustle. "Additionally, when you're sleep deprived, the area of your brain that controls decision making is impaired, meaning [...] you're more inclined to eat junk food [...] rather than healthy, nutritious food."
While it's always fine to eat junk food in moderation, if it becomes a major habit, your gut may start to struggle. "If you consume a lot of highly-processed foods that contain artificial ingredients," Ross says, "your stool can be come quite loose, even to the point of diarrhea."
3. It Can Impact The Microbes In Your Gut
Sleep can have a surprisingly big impact on the microbes in your gut, but especially so when you aren't sticking to a predictable sleep schedule.
"Our bodies follow a 24 hour sleep/wake cycle, also called our circadian rhythm," nutrition and wellness consultant Rebecca Washuta, MS, tells Bustle. "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 (pooping) to be significantly slowed down," she says. And you might notice even notice that it throws off your usual poop schedule.
That's why it's important to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day — even on the weekends — so your body can fall into a rhythm, and stay on track.
4. There's A Connection Between Sleep Disorders & IBS
"There is a strong correlation between sleep disorders and gastrointestinal conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease, and Crohn's disease," Washuta says. "This may be because lack of sleep can set off inflammatory cytokines in the body that trigger or aggravate these conditions."
If you struggle with things like IBS, definitely let a doctor know. But also consider the consistency of your sleep schedule, and how that might be playing a role.
5. You May Have Cramps & Bloating
Sleeping in can result in constipation, diarrhea, upset stomach, and even cramping and bloating, Dr. Nesheiwat says, due to the way it can affect your digestive system.
"Signals and hormonal control from the brain affects and regulates activity of sleep patterns and our intestines, and when we have a bowel movement, via feedback loops which helps regulate sleep and our circadian rhythm," she says.
While it can be difficult to do, it can help to stick to a consistent sleep schedule, so you don't disrupt this delicate balance. And if you find that you're sleeping the day away, you may even want to check in with your doctor to uncover some possible causes for your sleepiness — so you can get back on track.
6. Poor Sleep Can Impact Your Muscles
Chronic poor sleep can lead to constipation, thanks to the types of foods you may be more inclined to crave when you're tired. But it can also affect how the muscles in your rectum work as well, Washuta says.
"Abnormal rectal functioning, which is responsible for certain types of constipation, is caused by increased stretching of the rectal wall," she says. "This means that instead of sensing fullness and excreting normally, your rectum expands to hold more poop, resulting in constipation."
This connection has even been shown in studies, where poor sleep was associated with rectal distension, so make sure you get enough sleep each night, Washuta says, to ensure good gut health.
7. Oversleeping Can Lead To Constipation
Oversleeping can mess with your gut by disrupting your circadian rhythm. But laying in bed for long periods of time can also slow down your bowel movements, Washuta says, due to inactivity.
"Exercise helps to stimulate the muscles of the intestines," she says, "which move stools efficiently through your digestive tract." To maintain gut health — and have those good types of poop — try to fit some kind of exercise into your life, and eat fiber-rich foods, so things will keep moving in the right direction.
But also take a look at your sleep schedule. Because how well you sleep, how long you sleep, and even what you do when you're tired can all have an impact on your gut.