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What Is The Best Sleeping Position For Digestion Of Food?

a profile image of TSA author Alex

Written By Alex Petrović

Certified Sleep Consultant

Featured image of the best sleeping position for food digestion.

3 April 2024 9 min read

Digestion problems are becoming more and more common because unhealthy foods are consumed in large amount, people walk and run very little which is detrimental to the health of the digestive system. Sleep positions can affect digestion too, so let's find out what is the best sleeping position for digestion of food.

Majority of people have at least some digestive problems and that is not necessarily connected with sleeping positions. These problems can be chronic or can occur only occasionally, for example, after large meals that contain fatty and spicy foods. Heartburn, sometimes caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease, diarrhea, constipation and bloating are just some of the symptoms of numerous gastrointestinal diseases.

Some of them require treatment, such as regular medication or surgery. Some other problems can be solved by changing the diet and stopping alcohol consumption. Have you heard that left side sleeping position can help too? We will tell you the pros and cons of the best sleeping position for digestion of food, and we will also point out to you how to avoid digestion problems.

Is sleeping on the left side, after a meal, good for you?

More than two-thirds of people sleep all night or at least part of the night on their side, while less than 10% of the population sleeps on their stomachs. So side sleeping is predominant sleeping position. That is the reason why it is harder for stomach sleeper to find suitable pillow and mattress than for side sleeper.

An image of a young woman sleeping on left side.

Due to the popularity of this sleep position, most research has been done on side sleepers. Many of these studies have shown that sleeping on the left side is healthier than sleeping on the right side. Our body is generally symmetrical, but not all organs are symmetrical and that is why there is a difference between sleeping on the left and right side, especially after a meal.

Better brain health

You probably thought we would start with digestion and gut health, but first we will tell you more about one unexpected benefit of sleeping on the side, and that is improved brain health. Waste occurs as a byproduct of brain cell activity, and this toxic waste over time can lead to various neurological diseases. Numerous studies have confirmed that it is easier for your body to get rid of brain waste when you sleep on your side compared to back and stomach sleeping. Although researches have been done on rodents and not humans, the situation should be the same with humans.

Promoting food digestion

Anyone familiar with human anatomy can understand why sleeping on the left side helps digestion. There are a lot of sphincters in the human body. Sphincters are circular muscles that serve as valves. One of the sphincters is the ileocecal valve, which is located at the junction of the ileum, the end of the small intestine, and the colon. Since the ileocecal valve is positioned on the right side of our body, this implies that when you sleep on the left side, you will not put a pressure on the ileocecal valve which can lead to digestive problems.

a-woman-promoting-a-good-food-digestion

Less heartburn

It happens to everyone that from time to time stomach acid returns to the esophagus or even to the mouth. This does not mean that you suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It happens to everyone occasionally. But if this happens to you more than once in one week, you may suffer from GERD. Over-the-counter medications should help, and surgery is only needed in rare cases. Sleeping on the left side will ease the symptoms of GERD.

Less sleep apnea problems

Snoring can be the result of sleep apnea, so it is necessary to determine why you are snoring. Sleep apnea is a dangerous sleep disorder, which can even lead to heart problems and type 2 diabetes. If you are snoring or suffering from sleep apnea, it does not matter whether you sleep on the left or right side, but it is definitely advisable to sleep on the side since then the airways will not be blocked.

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Are there any potential problems when sleeping on the left side after a meal?

Although side sleeping has many benefits and is the most popular sleep position, we cannot say that it is perfect. If you do not have a suitable pillow and mattress, then sleeping on your side will be uncomfortable and you will not be able to take advantage of all the benefits. There are two potential problems when sleeping on the left side after a meal. And not just after a meal, but in general. You should address those issues if they occur before you have chronic pain.

An image of a woman feeling good when sleeping after meal.

Shoulder pain

Side sleepers often complain of shoulder pain. Your shoulder can hurt if your mattress is too firm and doesn't allow you to sink. In that case, you will often have to switch to the opposite side, but even that is not the right solution. You need a softer mattress. Also, you may keep your arm under the pillow which puts your shoulder in the unhealthy position and causes pain and numbness in the morning. Then you should avoid putting your arm under the pillow.

An image of a woman suffering from a shoulder pain.

Sore jaw

Shoulder pain is much more common than sore jaw for side sleepers, but those with sensitive or tight jaw may experience soreness after waking up. Tight jaw is often the result of anxiety and teeth grinding. A soft pillow can help, but it should not be too soft as it will not give you the support necessary for spinal alignment.

An image of a woman suffering from sore jaw.

How to avoid digestion problems & sleep well?

Don't get us wrong, sleeping on the left side is very useful, but it is not miraculous. If you have bad eating habits and if your lifestyle is unhealthy in general, then you will surely face digestion problems and poor sleep, sooner rather than late. To have a good night's sleep, you need to pay attention to a few things, and then when you lie on your left side, it will be a cherry on top.

No big meals before bed time

You should avoid large meals for breakfast and lunch too, but that is especially case in the evening. Keep in mind that amount of food is not the only thing you should pay attention to. Type of the food you consume is equally important. A large amount of white meat and vegetables can be better for your stomach than a smaller amount of fast food that is full of unhealthy fats, salt and other similar things.

An image of a man eating hamburger.

Have a meal at least 3 hours before bed

You should aim to eat at least 3 hours before bed. If that’s not possible, make sure you don’t eat anything in the last hour and a half or two before bed. This may be challenging for those who follow an eating pattern called intermittent fasting (IF). In that case, one should eat all the food for that day in the 6 to 8 hour window. It is important to make such a schedule that you eat for example between noon and 6 pm. That way, they will have enough time to digest the large meals you eat as part of intermittent fasting and such meals will not affect your night's sleep.

Drink enough water

It is necessary to hydrate throughout the day. Be careful to distribute the amount of water and other fluids evenly throughout the day. Avoid coffee and other beverages that contain caffeine after 3 PM. If you drink too much water before bedtime, then you will have to get up several times during the night to go to the toilet, and this will negatively affect the quality of your sleep.

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An image of a woman drinking a glass of water before the bed time.

Using the best sleeping position for digestion

Side sleepers should sleep with two pillows. One should keep your head elevated and give you support and pressure relief. And others should be placed between the knees. This way you will make the most of this sleep position. If you use a flat and firm pillow for stomach sleepers, and you don’t have another pillow to put between your knees, then side sleeping won’t be nowhere near as effective as it should be.

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Keep your head elevated

Head should be slightly elevated. This is necessary because of the neutral position of spine, but such position is also very useful in preventing heartburn and other digestive problems. This will keep your head above the level of gastric acid and prevent reflux, thanks to gravity.

An image of a young man sleeping on his side.

Use pillow between knees

A pillow between knees can reduce hip and back pain, improve posture and make you sleep better. Side sleeping, especially on the left side, is recommended for pregnant women, so pregnant women should also put a pillow between knees. If you are wondering how a pillow between knees helps, it evenly distributes weight, keeps spine aligned and reduces nocturnal body movements such as tossing and turning.

Remember – no big meals

We sincerely apologize if we are annoying, but we have to repeat for your good – avoid big meals before bed! Eat moderate amounts of food that contain all the necessary nutrients. This will improve not only your night's sleep, but your overall health. Big meals can lead to diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity in the long run.

Is sleeping on the side the only good position for a proper digestion?

Side sleeping is certainly the best position for a proper digestion, and it is hard to say whether sleeping on the side is the only good position for a proper digestion. Stomach sleeping should definitely be avoided. Not just after meals and for digestion, but in general.

An image of a woman laying on her bed after a meal.

Stomach sleeping exposes neck to huge strain, and also most pillows and mattresses are not suitable for this position, so you will be very uncomfortable. Stomach sleeping is especially uncomfortable after eating for obvious reasons. Since we know that there are people who can only fall asleep if they lie on their stomach, they have to buy an ideal pillow and mattress, and to avoid meals at least 3 or 4 hours before bedtime.

On the other hand, best sleeping positions are side and back sleeping, since back sleeping has its advantages too. It is a healthy sleep position that distributes your body weight evenly, and also prevents the appearance of wrinkles. What can be big problems when sleeping on your back are acid reflux and sleep apnea.

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About the author

Alex Petrović
Sleep Consultant
A CPD certified Sleep Consultant with more than 2000 hours of research into all the different ways we can get a great night's sleep. As a former insomniac, I know how difficult life can be without a nightly recovery and I love that I get to share everything I've learned with you all. So hopefully we can all sleep soundly!
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