What’s the Best Sleeping Position for Digestion?

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No matter what type of sleeper you are, your sleep position can affect how you digest food. While you're sleeping, your brain and body continue to work by digesting the food and drinks you consumed throughout the day. Both the foods you eat and your sleep position can affect the quality of sleep you're getting and the speed of digestion.

This article reviews ways to improve digestion by sleeping in the best position.

woman sleeping on her left side

Adene Sanchez / Getty Images

How Sleep Affects Digestion

During sleep, the digestive system is hard at work. On average, it can take anywhere from 30 to 72 hours to digest food, though it varies by person. Digestion time depends on the type of food, what you drank, and your metabolism (how your body converts food into energy).

When digestion is working as it should, you barely notice it. But if you have any issues like heartburn or constipation, you'll feel uncomfortable and possibly bloated.

Nutritional factors that may disrupt sleep include:

  • Eating too close to bedtime
  • Overeating
  • Consuming spicy foods
  • Consuming alcohol or caffeinated drinks
  • High-carbohydrate meals

Getting too little sleep can affect your gut. It can also result in a 40% increase in blood levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that slows the metabolism. It can also trigger an increase in hunger and cravings by 33%.

How Does Sleep Affect Health?

Good quality sleep is essential for overall health. While you're asleep, your body is repairing. Babies, young children, and teens need adequate sleep to support growth and brain development. Adults need a little less sleep (most need at least seven hours per night). Lack of sleep has been linked to a higher risk of stroke, heart attack, diabetes, and more.

Sleep on the Left Side

Sleeping on the left side separates food and acid from the lower esophageal sphincter, which means less acid will back up into the esophagus.

Sleeping on your left side may reduce the risk of heartburn and symptoms of indigestion.

Heartburn is common in people who are pregnant. If you're pregnant, sleeping on your left side is recommended because it improves blood flow and kidney function and takes the pressure off your liver from the increasing weight of the uterus.

Side Sleeping Benefits

There are some benefits to sleeping on your side. Left-side sleeping is recommended for people who have heartburn due to acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Foods to Help You Sleep

Some foods and drinks that can help you sleep better include:

  • Malted milk
  • Fatty fish
  • Nuts
  • Rice
  • Kiwis
  • Tart cherries and cherry juice

Avoid Back Sleeping

Back sleeping may be preferred by some people, but it's not the best position if you have heartburn due to GERD or acid reflux. Back sleeping allows acid to creep back up into the throat, causing a burning sensation and discomfort throughout the night.

The old adage "back to sleep" really only applies to babies, to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Most other people would benefit from side sleeping.

Additionally, if you have sleep apnea, a serious sleep condition that can affect your overall health, back sleeping may make it worse.

Summary

What you eat and drink can affect your digestion during sleep. Your sleep position can also affect your digestion, alleviating or exacerbating conditions like heartburn. Side sleeping, particularly on your left side, is recommended to improve heartburn. A person can make other simple changes, like avoiding eating before bed, that can help digestion.

A Word From Verywell

If you have any digestive issues that make sleep difficult, discuss sleeping strategies or treatment options with your healthcare provider. They will be able to make the best recommendations for your specific situation. Sometimes simple diet changes can be enough to improve sleep.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it bad to sleep on your stomach?

    Sleeping on your stomach isn't recommended because it can cause pain in your neck. If you're a stomach sleeper, try sleeping on your side for a more restful slumber.

  • What organs are on your left side?

    Organs on your left side include your heart, left lung, pancreas, spleen, stomach, and left kidney. If you're pregnant, sleeping on your left side is preferable because it improves blood flow and kidney function.

  • How can you digest food faster?

    How quickly food digests depends on what you're eating and drinking. Whole, plant-based foods and water are easily and quickly digested, whereas proteins like eggs, meats, and cheeses will keep you feeling full longer and take longer to digest. Drinking plenty of water and getting regular exercise can help move the waste products through your digestive system a little faster.

  • Is it bad to lie down after eating?

    You should try to stay upright after eating. Lying down soon after a meal can increase your risk of heartburn or acid reflux. Try sitting on a couch and leaning on a pillow instead of lying down if you're very tired.

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10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Sleep Foundation. Nutrition and sleep.

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  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How does sleep affect your heart health?.

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  6. Canadian Society of Intestinal Research. Heartburn keeping you up at night? Try sleeping on your left side.

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