Overnights With Ulcerative Colitis: Tips for Sleeping Over

by Jackie Zimmerman Patient Advocate

There are times in life when you find yourself in a situation where you are sleeping out of the comfort of your own home, in someone else’s home, or sharing a hotel room. And when you live with ulcerative colitis (UC), the anxiety about sleeping somewhere else can be so overwhelming that it causes you to miss out on fun experiences. Before you go into panic mode, here are a few tips that may help you feel more comfortable and be able to enjoy your night away.

Using smart phone to find information.

Do a Little Planning in Advance

A simple phone call or text can often allay some of your UC-related fears about sleeping at someone else’s place. If you’re staying with a friend, shoot them a text to ask about the bathroom situation: How many are there? Where are they located? How many people will be using them? With answers to simple questions like these, you won’t feel like you’re going in blind and can mentally prepare for whatever may come your way.

bathroom with focus on toilet

Ask for Details After You Arrive

Once you’ve arrived at your destination, take a few minutes to get the lay of the land, and always ask this very important question: “Is there anything I should know about the toilet?” I always ask this because I want to know if there is poor water pressure (if you’re in a remote place), if the handle needs to be jiggled or knock on wood, the toilet itself is broken but there is no sign to let you know. You’d be surprised how often people forget to tell a guest that their toilet has some idiosyncrasies.

hands packing suitcase

What to Pack

When preparing for a sleepover, you could literally pack the contents of an entire spare bathroom and closet, but that’s probably overkill. You want to make sure you’re prepared for all situations, but that you haven’t freaked yourself out by planning for every possible disaster. I suggest making sure you have spare clothes, two sets of pajamas, wet wipes, Poo-Pourri, your preferred brand of toilet paper, and plastic bags.

Young Fit Woman Peeling and Eating a Ripe Banana

Tips for Preventing Accidents

For me, the biggest fear about a sleepover is the possibility of having an accident, so I try to take a few steps to help prevent those, including being aware of what I’m eating and at what time. If I’m sleeping somewhere unfamiliar, I will try to cut off my food intake a little earlier than usual, or if I’m extra concerned, I’ll take a few Immodium or eat a banana. The goal is to slow down the time your food takes to digest, and hopefully help you make it through the night accident-free.

couple in bathroom

Sharing a Bathroom

Trips with friends or sleepovers almost always involve sharing a bathroom, which can be uncomfortable and stressful. If you’re worried about smell, I’d suggest bringing Poo-Pourri. If you’re worried about sound, there’s always the “put toilet paper in the bowl before you go” trick. Remember that a bathroom is a place we all use for the same purpose, so don’t let it stress you out too much.

couple in bed

Sharing a Bed

In my opinion, the most stressful type of sleepover is one where you’ll be sharing a bed with someone else. If you’re worried about accidents at night, I suggest laying down a towel (or two) underneath you when you sleep, or getting some kind of absorbing liner for your underwear. You can always use separate blankets and make a joke about how you steal the covers at night!

Be Candid

If you’re spending time with friends or close family, consider being candid with them about your UC and any anxiety you may have about sleeping over somewhere. Being candid may not always be an option for you, but I have found that when I just tell people my fears about noises or smells that I’m less worried, and if I’m really comfortable, we can even laugh about it.

Explaining UC If It Comes Up

Sleeping in close quarters with new people can often bring up some questions or curiosities about UC. If this happens, remember you have two options: 1. You don’t have to say a thing. This is your life, and you get to choose who you share this info with. 2. Give an explanation of UC that is at your comfort level. You could give someone a complete detailed rundown of UC, or you can simply tell them it’s a disease of the digestive tract.

Don't Forget to Have Fun

If staying the night somewhere other than your house makes you nervous, pack everything you think you’ll need, even if it means bringing a whole suitcase. The only way you’ll be able to have fun and relax is if you’re not thinking about your UC the whole time, so take whatever steps are necessary for you to have a good time. Maybe that means doing recon work before you go, or having an honest convo with your company. But remember: The goal here is to have fun. Instead of thinking about the worst-case scenario, spend some time focusing on what you’ll do when you get there, the conversations you may have, and the memories you’ll make.

Jackie Zimmerman
Meet Our Writer
Jackie Zimmerman

Jackie Zimmerman is a multiple sclerosis and ulcerative colitis patient and the founder of Girls With Guts. Since diagnosis, she has blogged her IBD journey at Blood, Poop, and Tears. Jackie has worked hard to become a strong voice in the patient advocacy community. In her free time (what free time?!) she spends time with her two rescue pups, her husband Adam and plays roller derby. She’s online @JackieZimm.