Can't Sleep? It Could Be a Digestive Problem

Insomnia Linked With Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Indigestion, Heartburn

Dec. 15, 2004 -- Insomnia and digestive problems are common bedfellows.

A new study in this month's issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings shows that irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, and heartburn are frequently seen among people with insomnia.

Both insomnia and digestive problems are extremely common, notes researcher Santhi Swaroop Vege, MD, a professor of gastroenterology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minn.

Several researchers have made a similar connection between the two, but haven't quite understood the pattern. Certainly, stomach pain can cause insomnia. And insomnia can cause stomach upsets. Also, both sets of problems could have some common underlying cause, such as anxiety, depression, or other emotional difficulties.

To explore this more, Vege and his colleagues mailed questionnaires to randomly chosen residents in one Minnesota county.

 The survey also asked about numerous symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), such as bloating, gas, constipation, or diarrhea. Other questions were about nondigestive problems, including headache, backache, asthma, high blood pressure, fatigue, depression, dizziness, and weakness.

Of the 2,269 residents who responded, researchers found that 39% reported insomnia at least once a month; 6% said their insomnia was severe or extremely bothersome.


  • 15% reported stomach pain waking them from sleep
  • 15% said they had IBS
  • 10% had digestive problems
  • 13% reported frequent heartburn

The strongest association was seen between insomnia and IBS.

Those who also had stress in their lives were twice as likely to have insomnia, IBS, and heartburn - but not other digestive problems, Vege reports.

More research is needed to understand exactly what's happening, especially the interactions between stress and intestinal problems, researchers say.