The Position You Sleep in Can Impact Digestion – Here’s What the Research Shows

Getting a good night’s sleep is crucial for both physical and mental health. But did you know that the position you sleep in can also affect your digestion? Sleeping on certain sides may either promote or disrupt healthy digestion.

In this blog post article, we’ll explore how the sleeping position impacts digestion and review what scientific research to date tells us about sleeping on the left side versus right side for optimal digestive functioning. We’ll also provide tips for improving sleep quality no matter which side you prefer to snooze on.

The Link Between Sleep and Digestion

Sleep and digestion are intricately connected in the body. When we sleep, the body repairs and restores itself while also preparing for the next day. Key hormones regulating appetite and digestion follow circadian rhythms and sync up during sleep.

One such hormone is melatonin. In addition to regulating sleep cycles, melatonin also helps control the movement of food through the digestive tract. This movement, known as “gut motility,” ensures we regularly eliminate waste and prevent issues like acid reflux at night.

Our sleep position can work with or against normal circadian rhythms and digestive processes. Certain positions may trigger digestive issues while sleeping as well as the next day.

girl sleeping on bed

Left vs. Right Side Sleeping: Impact on Digestion

Few studies focus specifically on side sleeping position and digestion. But theories exist on how alignment in different sleep positions may promote or obstruct healthy digestion.

1. Sleeping on the Right Side

The biggest proposed benefit of right-side sleeping for digestion is gravity. When lying on the right side, contents in the stomach naturally shift downward through the digestive tract. This position straightens the connection between the stomach and the small intestine for smoother food transit.

Lying on the right may also minimize acid reflux symptoms at night. Experts speculate stomach acid becomes diluted when combined with food contents positioned on the lower side of the stomach during right-side sleep.

However, more research is still needed on right-side snoozing and digestive benefits. Small sample sizes, lack of control groups, and reliance on self-reported outcomes limit current study findings.

2. Sleeping on the Left Side

Far more research exists on left-side sleeping and digestion compared to right-side slumber. Lying on the left after eating shows positive effects on multiple markers of digestive health and motility.

For example, one study found participants lying on their left side after a meal had significantly faster gastric emptying. This means food moved from the stomach to small intestine quicker compared to those who stayed upright or lay on their right side.

Another study using wireless motility capsules found left-side positioning after eating accelerated capsule movement through both stomach and intestines.

Experts attribute these positive digestive effects to anatomy. When lying left, the stomach hangs lower than the esophagus junction and pylorus (opening to the small intestine). Gravity assists food contents in moving more smoothly through this bent path.

The left-side position may also limit acid reflux symptoms as the esophagus sits above the level of gastric acid. One study found patients who switched to left-side sleeping after chronic right-sided reflux experienced significantly decreased symptoms long term.

Improving Sleep Quality and Digestion

While research continues confirming ideal sleep positions for digestion, focus on improving sleep hygiene in general. Quality rest every night sets the stage for optimal daily digestive functioning.

Give yourself time to wind down before bed by:

  • Avoiding late-night heavy meals
  • Steering clear of electronic devices
  • Practicing relaxing rituals like gentle yoga, reading, or meditation
  • Keeping the bedroom dark, cool, and quiet

Deep, restorative sleep minimizes next-day gastric disturbances. But don’t force yourself into an uncomfortable position all night chasing hypothetical benefits. Find what works best for your body by alternating starting sleep positions.

You can experiment with using a body pillow or wedge to maintain side alignment at night. But give your body permission to shift periodically. Monitoring digestive symptoms over weeks in sleep diaries may reveal useful correlations with rest position.

The Takeaway

Research to date suggests that left-side sleeping after eating supports healthy digestion patterns overnight. The left position appears to ease food transitional motility through the stomach and beyond via gravitational forces. However, high-quality studies are still limited.

Focus on optimizing sleep hygiene through soothing pre-bedtime routines, limiting electronics, and crafting an ideal sleep environment. Give your body permission to fluidly shift positions overnight while noting any connections between sleep quality, rest positions, and next-day digestive issues.

Over time, best practice sleep foundations plus self-experimentation can reveal your optimal snooze approach for both restful nights and healthy digestion. Pay attention to how refreshed you feel in the AM plus digestive symptoms and adjust rest positions accordingly.