Cystitis is an uncomfortable but common urinary tract infection (UTI). It is caused by bacteria, such as E.coli, travelling into the urethra and up into the bladder, where it causes irritation and inflammation.
Because it’s difficult to prevent cystitis assuredly, it’s likely most women will get it at least once in their lives. For some women, cystitis can keep coming back. If you experience cystitis often, you should speak to your doctor to determine what is causing it to keep returning.
UTIs are not generally serious and are easily treated with a short course of antibiotics. You can also take over-the-counter pain relief, such as paracetamol, to manage the pain.
Along with the infection comes a host of unpleasant and sometimes painful symptoms that can make it challenging to get to sleep.
Symptoms of Cystitis
The symptoms of cystitis include:
- a persistent urge to urinate (even when the bladder is empty)
- burning while urinating
- cloudy and smelly urine
- lower abdominal pain
These symptoms can feel doubly frustrating at night when trying to sleep. The constant need to urinate can have sufferers up and down during the night, while the persistent pain in the urethra can also make it difficult to drift off and stay asleep as it is hard to ignore.
It can also cause you to feel generally unwell in yourself, like a cold or the flu. Feeling tired and drained is not uncommon as your body fights a UTI.
It’s important to get a good night's sleep in order to give your body the best chance at fighting the infection. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to ease your symptoms and ensure a more peaceful night.
Whilst annoying and often sore, there are a few things you can try to manage the condition enough to assist with a decent night’s sleep.
Easing Cystitis at Night
There are a number of things you can do to relieve your cystitis pain and speed up your recovery.
You should avoid fizzy drinks while you have a UTI. Fizzy drinks can irritate the bladder further. Instead, drink plenty of fresh water to help flush out the infection.
Try to consume more liquids earlier in the day so your bladder is less full before bed.
Avoid caffeine & alcohol. Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning it makes you need to go to the toilet more frequently. Caffeine can also irritate the bladder lining, so try to avoid things that contain caffeine, like tea, coffee, chocolate and fizzy drinks. Alcohol is also a bladder irritant, so it is advisable not to drink while recovering.
It is thought that citrus fruits like lemons and oranges may increase pain when urinating due to their high acidity. Whilst this has not been proven, it may be a good idea to avoid acidic drinks until you feel better.
Try sleeping in a position that helps to relax the pelvic muscles. Lying on your side and pulling your legs up into a fetal position, or spreading your legs apart if you sleep on your back, should be more comfortable.
Put a hot water bottle on your abdomen or between your legs for 30 minutes before bed. If you choose to sleep with a hot compress, make sure it is one that cools over time.
In general, sex should be avoided entirely while you have cystitis. If you do have sex, remember to urinate immediately afterwards to flush out any bacteria which may be moved up your urethra and into your bladder.
Wear loose pyjamas that are not tight around the genital area. Soft, breathable fabrics like cotton can prevent irritation and let the area breathe without trapping moisture. A nightie or very loose bottoms like pyjamas with no waistband will stop unwanted pressure on the bladder.
Try gentle exercises, such as walking or light yoga. These can release natural pain-neutralising chemicals in the brain called endorphins. Be careful, as vigorous exercise can worsen your symptoms and have a negative effect on your sleeping pattern.
If you need some immediate relief, a hot shower can help to soothe the urethra. Be sure to avoid scented or perfumed beauty products, as these can cause irritation and may worsen your symptoms. Instead, use a plain and gentle soap to wash.
If you smoke, avoid smoking before bed. Cigarettes contain chemicals which could be upsetting your bladder further.
Aside from self-help, there are medicines which can help you manage your symptoms and rid cystitis.
Take pain relief half an hour or so before bed. Anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen, will not only decrease your pain but also reduce inflammation of your bladder.
Still, suffering? If your symptoms haven’t gone in 3 days on their own, you may need to see a doctor for some antibiotics such as trimethoprim or nitrofurantoin in order to rid the infection completely.
You can make appropriate changes to your lifestyle in order to prevent cystitis from coming back.
Urinating as soon as you can after sex, drinking plenty of water, and keeping your genitals clean and dry can help to prevent cystitis from coming back.
If you do keep getting cystitis, speak to your doctor. They may be able to prescribe a low-dose antibiotic to take over the course of several months to prevent cystitis from occurring.
NHS, 2018. Cystitis: Treatments
British Association of Urological Surgeons (BAUS), 2020. Self-help information for women with recurrent cystitis