Association between gastrointestinal disorders and sleep disturbances

Mayo Clinic researchers report in the current issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings an association between gastrointestinal disorders and sleep disturbances. The association is important because these problems cause significant health issues including greater need for general medical and mental health treatment.

It's estimated that nearly one-half of American adults experience one or more symptoms that indicate sleep disturbances or insomnia, at least a few nights a week.

The authors of the study note that this is the first population-based study, to their knowledge, that assesses the association between sleep disturbances and irritable bowel syndrome, frequent indigestion and frequent heartburn. In the past, studies have reviewed patients, not the general population. Assessing the general population helps physicians better understand an overall cause-and-effect relationship between the various problems.

The researchers looked at the responses to a detailed questionnaire (previously tested and found to be reliable) from 2,269 people. After they adjusted their findings for age, sex and other factors, they determined that irritable bowel syndrome was significantly more common in people with sleep disturbances than those without sleep disturbances. It's uncertain whether GI disturbances and sleep disturbances cause one another or they are caused by another underlying problem.

"We think the findings will generate further research to understand the interactions between emotional or psychological distress and sleep disturbances and GI disturbances," says Santhi Swaroop Vege, M.D., a Mayo Clinic physician and lead author of the study.

The National Sleep Foundation has defined insomnia as any of the following: difficulty falling asleep, waking a lot during the night, waking too early with inability to get back to sleep or waking up feeling tired. Using this broad definition, the 2003 Sleep in America poll, which included 1,506 adults ages 55 to 84 from various parts of the United States, found a prevalence of insomnia in 48 percent.

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