Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with bloating, heartburn, or abdominal soreness? On occasions like this, it’s incredibly difficult to fall back asleep and get the rest you need. But insufficient sleep can eventually impact your digestive system, creating an unhelpful (and definitely unrestful) cycle.
There are several factors that can contribute to nighttime indigestion. These include your digestive health, what you had for dinner (or for your midnight snack), when you last ate, and last but not least, your sleep position.
Some sleep positions help support healthy digestion, while others can actually make it more difficult.
In this short guide, we’ll cover the best and worst sleeping positions for digestion, along with our favorite tricks for supporting the digestive system at night.
How Sleep Position Affects Digestion
Before we discuss what is the best side to sleep on for digestion, first, let’s review how physical alignment impacts the digestive tract throughout the day and night.
As you know, your digestive system sits in your abdomen. When you’re awake, your daily activities can help aid better digestion:
- When we’re standing or sitting, the force of gravity helps food move downwards through the intestines and prevents gastric acid from rising into the esophagus.
- Certain studies show that exercise and movement can help lessen the time it takes for gastric emptying—the process by which the stomach empties its content into the intestines for further digestion and elimination.
Digestion can be more challenging during sleep because our digestive systems have a different relationship to gravity. In addition, gastric activity decreases as we doze.
Besides these factors, specific sleep positions can affect the digestive organs:
- In some positions, we may salivate and swallow less. A lack of lubricant saliva can further slow food’s travel through the GI tract.
- Without gravity’s help, gastric acid may travel back up into the esophagus, causing heartburn or acid reflux symptoms. This is not only counter-productive to digestion but also uncomfortable and likely to interfere with your sleep.
- Other positions may compress the stomach or intestines, creating hindrances to healthy digestion and might cause stomach pain. In some cases, this can lead to nausea.
In some cases, less-than-ideal sleep positions can lead to morning constipation and other unpleasant effects.
Which positions exacerbate these issues, and which can help you get a good night’s sleep? Next, we’ll take a closer look at the answers to these questions.
Your Left Side is the Right Side
Our bodies are not symmetrical—many organs lay on one side of the body. Which sleeping side can compress an organ or, conversely, give it extra space which may help in digestion and sleep quality.
Traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine recommends sleeping on your left side to help support healthy digestion and restful sleep.
Beyond traditional knowledge, here are several anatomical reasons why sleeping on your left side may be the best sleeping position for digestion:
The stomach is on the left side
When we sleep on our left sides, the stomach is below the esophagus, which makes it more difficult for stomach acid to rise up the digestive tract against gravity. Instead, gravity helps acid stay in the stomach, potentially reducing the risk of heart burn.
Food moves through your digestive system, via the ileocecal valve
As food moves through your digestive system, it must pass from the small intestine to the large intestine via the ileocecal valve. This valve is located on the lower right side of the abdomen, where it joins the ascending colons.
Sleeping on your left side keeps this valve free from compression and restriction. In addition, gravity can theoretically help draw matter down from the ileocecal valve and ascending colon towards the descending colon on the left side of the body.
With these features in mind, scientists are currently investigating the impact of sleep position on digestion. For example, a study in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal focusing on acid reflux and heartburn found that subjects experienced fewer symptoms when resting on their left sides for four hours after a heavy, fatty meal.
Other tips for fine-tuning your left side sleeping position
Prop your head
Sleeping with your head slightly above your torso can further reinforce the effects of gravity, making it easier for saliva to travel down through the digestive system and more difficult for stomach acid to travel up and cause heartburn.
Support your knees
Use a pillow to separate your knees. This will keep your spine in a healthier alignment (rather than curving downwards at the pelvis). As a consequence, you should experience less compression on your stomach and digestive organs, which will have more space to fulfill their function.
Can’t stand sleeping on your left side? Next, we’ll take a quick look at the pros and cons of other common sleeping positions.
Other Sleep Positions and Digestion
You don’t necessarily have to retrain yourself to sleep on your left side if another position is more comfortable. In fact, the benefits of getting adequate sleep could potentially outweigh the anatomical differences between left side sleeping and other positions.
But if you suffer frequent nighttime indigestion, it’s worth understanding how your current sleep position could play a role.
Sleeping on your back is generally a healthy sleep position. After all, the spine gets to stay in its natural alignment, and your digestive organs aren’t compressed by the weight of other organs (like they are for side sleepers). If you have back pain, shoulder pain, or hip pain, sleeping on your back may be the healthiest option. The only downside? Gravity won’t actively help you avoid acid reflux. However, sleeping with your head slightly propped may help.
Sleeping on your right side leaves your stomach above your spine and esophagus. This means that your stomach won’t be compressed. However, the above-mentioned JAMA Internal Medicine study found that you may be slightly more likely to experience acid reflux. If you’re already a side sleeper, try starting off on your left side at bedtime. Then, switch back and forth between your two sides to enjoy their different benefits.
Stomach sleepers are considered less ideal. It leaves your spine in a less-than-natural position which can eventually cause back, hip, and neck pain. Systemic stress and strain can make it more difficult for your body to maintain homeostasis and perform functions like healthy digestion. On top of that, you’re actively compressing your stomach with the weight of your abdomen, which is unlikely to relieve discomfort and may cause poor sleep quality.
Ultimately, keep in mind that the best position for digestion while sleeping is the one that helps you get a good night’s sleep.
Steps to Take Before Bed
Is your favorite sleep position placing a strain on your digestive system? Making other lifestyle changes can help you get ready for a good night’s sleep.
Below are our top recommendations for better digestion at night.
Eating Early Means Digesting Early
As we’ve already noted, your digestion slows down when you’re sleeping. One solution? Eating earlier in the evening so that you have more time to digest before you hit the sheets. But exactly how long before bed should you stop eating to help aid in digestion and avoid those daunting symptoms of constipation, bloating, or heartburn?
Try out the following:
How Probiotics are Good for Digestion Before Bed
Are you wondering how probiotics could help you sleep better? Sometimes, the issue isn’t what or when you eat. Instead, it’s the resources your body has at its disposal to digest food.
The microbiota (living organisms) in your gut play an essential role in helping your body break down foods and absorb nutrients. A dearth of “good” bacteria or an excess of “bad” bacteria can result in symptoms including constipation, bloating, diarrhea, and digestive discomfort.
To harness the power of probiotics, make Bio-K+® capsules and drinkable probiotics part of your daily routine.
Get Moving After Dinner
Light exercise and motion can also help speed up the process of gastric emptying. Try out one of the following:
- Take a walk right after eating. Even a short, 15-20 minute walk may help to ease gassiness and speed up digestion. You’ll also experience the physical and mental benefits of added exercise.
- You don’t have to twist yourself into acrobatic, stomach-compressing postures. A gentle, restorative yoga practice can help speed up metabolic processes. Plus if you are looking for ways how to manage stress
Is there another way you like to move? Whether it’s hula-hoop, dance, or cycling, getting exercise before bed can result in healthier digestion and more restful sleep.
Bio-K+ for Sweet Dreams
Are you unsure where to start with probiotics? With so many options on the market, it can be difficult to know which products will best support your gut health.
Bio-K+ probiotics contain a unique formula of clinically-supported probiotic strains including L. acidophilus CL1285®, L. casei LBC80R® and L. rhamnosus CLR2®. With targeted release technology, these helpful bacteria survive the journey through your stomach into your intestines where they can help aid healthy digestion.
For best results, use probiotics daily (or nightly) and experience potential benefits for digestive health, immunity, and emotional well-being.
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