Why Your Gut Wants You to Sleep on Your Left Side Every Night (2023)

When we’re pretzeling ourselves into poses at the yoga studio or lifting weights at the gym, we pay close attention to our form to avoid injury and gain the most benefit from the exercise.

The same should go for our slumber.

Our sleep position matters to our health. It affects everything from the brain to the gut. We know that not getting enough sleep can make us feel about as energetic as a sloth. But if you’re logging the recommended seven to eight hours for your adulting needs and still waking up feeling lackluster, you might need to reassess what exactly you’re doing to your body after lights out.

Left-side sleeping has the most expert- and science-backed health benefits. Although our bodies appear largely symmetrical, our organ placement makes us asymmetrical internally. How we rest influences the way our systems direct and process waste — which should be part of our overall health aspirations.

You might track working out, eating a healthy breakfast, or starting the day with a fresh perspective. Why not give your bowel movement the same attention?

For some, a bowel movement happens like clockwork. But others living with irritable bowel syndrome with constipation, lazy bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, or other gastrointestinal conditions may struggle to check this item off the to-do list. So why not let gravity do the work?

(Video) Can Sleeping on Your Left Side Benefit Your Health?

Pro tip for side sleeping

Start out on your left side at night to prevent heartburn and allow gravity to move waste through your colon. Alternate sides if your shoulder bothers you. Place a firm pillow between your knees and hug one to support your spine.

While you sleep on your left side at night, gravity can help take waste on a trip through the ascending colon, then into the transverse colon, and finally dump it into the descending colon — encouraging a trip to the bathroom in the morning.

Side sleeping benefits

  • Aids digestion. Our small intestine transfers waste to our large intestine through the ileocecal valve, located in our lower right abdomen. (A dysfunction of this valve will play a role in intestinal disorders.)
  • Reduces heartburn. The theory that left-side sleeping aids digestion and waste elimination was born from Ayurvedic principles, but modern research also supports this idea. A 2010 study of 10 participants found a relationship between laying on the right side and increased cases of heartburn (also known as GERD) than when laying on the left side. Researchers theorize that if we lie on the left side, the stomach and its gastric juices remain lower than the esophagus while we sleep.
  • Boosts brain health. Our minds may benefit from side sleeping because we have gunk there, too. When compared to back or stomach sleeping, sleeping on your left or right side may help your body clear what’s called interstitial waste from the brain. This brain cleanse may help reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other neurological diseases. These results were from a study conducted on rodents’ brains, and though researchers speculate that side sleeping would clear interstitial waste from the brain more effectively than other sleep positions, further testing in humans is needed.
  • Reduces snoring or sleep apnea. Sleeping on your side keeps your tongue from falling into your throat and partially blocking your airway. If side sleeping doesn’t alleviate your snoring or you suspect you have untreated sleep apnea, talk to your doctor to find a solution that works for you.

Side sleeping might also make you a better bedfellow and leave you more well-rested.

“On its surface, snoring could just be seen as annoying, but many people are being diagnosed with sleep apnea,” says Bill Fish, a certified sleep science coach. This means the body actually stops breathing as frequently as 20 to 30 times per hour.”

Potential cons of side sleeping

  • Shoulder pain. You may be able to switch to the opposite side, but if shoulder pain persists, find a new sleeping position.
  • Jaw discomfort. If you have a tight jaw, putting pressure on it while you sleep on your side can leave it sore in the morning.

Pro tips for sleeping on your side

Many of us actually already favor side sleeping. A 2017 study deduced we spend more than half of our time in bed in a side or fetal position. If you’re a side sleeper, you likely do a little flip-flopping during the night. That’s fine. Just try to start out on your left side to pamper your gut.

(Video) Why Your Gut Wants You to Sleep on Your Left Side Every Night

Directions for side sleeping

“Measure the length between your neck and the end of your shoulder,” Fish says. “Find a pillow that supports this height so that your head and neck can stay aligned with your spine.”

  1. Find a pillow that fits your collarbone structure.
  2. Place a firm pillow between your knees to stack your hips and support your lower back.
  3. Make sure the pillow is firm enough to avoid collapse.
  4. Hug a pillow as well so that you have a comfortable place to rest your top arm.
  5. Keep your arms parallel to each other and at or below your face.

Shop all Healthline-approved pillows for side sleepers in our sleep shop.

“There are plenty of positives from sleeping on your back,” Fish says. “First off, it is easier to keep your spine aligned.”

In addition, a supine position can take pressure off the shoulder or jaw and reduce tension headaches resulting from those areas.

Sleeping on your back may also reduce discomfort by lessening compression and pain from old injuries or other chronic conditions.

Back sleeping may help

  • hip pain
  • knee pain
  • arthritis
  • bursitis
  • fibromyalgia
  • stuffy nose or sinus buildup
(Video) WHY YOU GUT WANTS YOU TO SLEEP ON YOUR LEFT SIDE EVERY NIGHT | HEALTHY FRIENDS | BESTIE

Finding a comfortable position with any chronic pain condition can be a struggle. But starting out on your back with strategic, trial-and-error pillow support might help.

Pro tip for back sleeping

Sleep on a wedge pillow or elevate the head of your bed 6 inches. Lie with legs spread hip-width distance apart and your arms spread in a goalpost formation. Elevate your knees with a pillow.

Side sleeping is the safest choice if you snore or have sleep apnea. But an elevation method could help with these conditions if you prefer sleeping on your back. Talk to your doctor about what’s best for you.

Pro tips for sleeping on your back

“Changing your sleep position isn’t easy, as our bodies have grown accustomed to our sleep ritual for years,” Fish says. “But using a pillow in different ways can help jump-start the change.”

Here are some pro tips to consider:

  1. Protect your lower back by tucking a pillow under your knees. This puts your spine in a neutral and supported position.
  2. Sleep with legs spread and arms out, like a goalie. This way, you’ll evenly distribute your weight and avoid placing pressure on your joints. This posture has the added benefit of keeping you in place if you’re training yourself to sleep on your back.
  3. Try pillows on either side of you to aid as reminders. For your head, choose a pillow that offers support for the natural curve of your neck and keeps your spine in alignment. Fish says the key is to avoid pillow heights that tilt your chin to your chest.
  4. Get elevated. For people with heartburn who can’t sleep on their side, use a wedge pillow or elevate the head of your bed 6 inches with bed risers. Elevation can also help prevent sinus buildup for when you have a stuffy nose disrupting your sleep. It can also alleviate facial pressure and headaches.

Wedge pillows to try

Stomach sleeping is the big no-no when it comes to slumber poses.

(Video) Stop Sleeping on Your Stomach: 7 Reasons Why

“If you are sleeping on your stomach and notice you are suffering back pain, there probably is a reason,” Fish warns us. “Since the majority of the weight of the human body is around your center, that core pushes into the sleep surface further and basically puts strain on your spine in the wrong direction, causing back and neck pain.”

The only benefit to a downward-facing sleep position is that it may help keep your airways open if you snore or have sleep apnea. However, a side option is better.

Pro tip for stomach sleepers

If you find it hard to minimize stomach sleeping, use a flat pillow or none at all. Tuck a pillow under your pelvis to help relieve pressure.

Shop all Healthline-approved pillows for stomach sleepers in our sleep shop.

Positioning tips for sleeping on your stomach

Always try to avoid sleeping on your stomach. But if you can’t sleep any other way, try to incorporate these tips:

  • Alternate the way you turn your head often to avoid neck stiffness.
  • Don’t hitch your leg up to one side with a bent knee. That will only wreak more havoc on your back.
  • Be careful not to tuck your arms underneath your head and pillow. It could cause arm numbness, tingling, or pain, or anger your shoulder joints.
  • Place arms in a goalpost position instead.

All of this talk of sleep has probably made you feel ready for a nap. If you’re about to hop off to bed, remember to be mindful of your form and make adjustments when necessary. You’ll find a position and pillow placement that works for your unique needs before you know it.

If you’re struggling to get all your Zzz’s, try these sleep tips, or browse our sleep shop and discover all the best products for achieving deeper sleep. Chronic insomnia has both long- and short-term consequences on your health, so if you’re staring at the ceiling at night or struggling to get comfortable, reach out to your doctor. They may be able to recommend a sleep study or other helpful interventions.

May the sheep arcing over your head be few and your rest comfy and cozy.

Jennifer Chesak is a Nashville-based freelance book editor and writing instructor. She’s also an adventure travel, fitness, and health writer for several national publications. She earned her Master of Science in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill and is working on her first fiction novel, set in her native state of North Dakota.

FAQs

Why does my stomach feel better when I lay on my left side? ›

The stomach's natural position is on the left side, where it can digest food more effectively. Gravity helps the waste travel from the small intestine to the large intestine.

What side should you sleep on for gut? ›

While you sleep on your left side at night, gravity can help take waste on a trip through the ascending colon, then into the transverse colon, and finally dump it into the descending colon — encouraging a trip to the bathroom in the morning.

Why should you not sleep on your right side? ›

Reflux and heartburn: If you suffer from heartburn, sleeping on your right side can make symptoms worse, Salas says. That's true for people who have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and for people who have heartburn for other reasons, such as pregnant women. Flip to your left side to cool the burn.

Does lying on your left side relieve gas? ›

Your side. Lying on your side with your knees bent can help to relieve trapped gas. If you don't feel relief after a few minutes, pull your knees closer to your chest or try alternating between straight legs and bent knees.

Is sleeping on your left side good for your heart? ›

Sleep positions to avoid if you have a heart condition

There's some evidence that sleeping on your left side may shift your heart and disrupt your heart's electrical current. Also, many people with heart failure report having trouble breathing in this position. Sleeping on your back can worsen sleep apnea and snoring.

Does sleeping on left side help digestion? ›

Sleep on Your Left Side

Did you know that sleeping on your left side can promote better coordination between your digestive system and GRAVITY? That's correct – the small intestine moves waste to your right side to make its way to the large intestine and then to the lower colon on the left side.

What side of the bed do most females sleep on? ›

Research reveals more women prefer to sleep on the left side of the bed than the right - and the reason why is super cute. There's almost an unspoken mutual agreement between couples about which side of the bed they each sleep on, right?

What is the best sleeping position for weight loss? ›

Side sleeping: This position helps to improve sleep, lose weight and pain. back, avoid swelling in legs, buttocks, thighs. Sleeping on the left side is a good position for the digestive system, avoiding the accumulation of fat.

What sleeping position is linked to dementia? ›

A 2019 study published in Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, showed among 165 participants (45 with diagnosed neurodegenerative disease, 120 controls) a supine sleep position (on back, head at body level) for more than 2 hours per night increased the risk of dementia by almost four times (3.7 times greater).

Is it healthier to sleep naked? ›

Ultimately, what you wear to sleep is a personal choice. “There's no proven benefit or harm to sleeping naked,” says Dr. Drerup. “Just do what feels right and then rest easy with your decision.”

What side do you lay on to lower blood pressure? ›

Sleeping on the left side is the best sleeping position for hypertension because it relieves blood pressure on blood vessels that return blood to the heart.

Why does lying on your left side help nausea? ›

Should stomach acid escape, gravity will return it to your stomach faster than it would if you were lying on your right side or back. Several studies back up this claim, making left-side sleeping the most effective of all of the flat-sleeping positions.

Why does left side help digestion? ›

If one lies on his or her left side, the stomach and gastric juices are lower than the esophagus, allowing easier drainage. Healthline says modern research supports this theory. Left-side sleeping aids in digestion, helping waste get ready to leave your body.

Does lying on your left side help with nausea? ›

How should you sleep if you feel nauseous? You should sleep elevated and on your side when feeling nauseous. While it does not matter which side you lay on, sleeping on your side can reduce your chances of choking if you were to vomit in your sleep.

Why does my stomach stop hurting when I lay down? ›

"When we go to sleep, our intestines go to sleep," Hanauer said. "Further, our brains usually turn off many pain signals while we sleep. So if the pain is bad enough to wake us up, that's concerning.

Videos

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