Best side to sleep on for digestion
Did you know that the side you sleep on impacts digestion? Simply turning over in bed can make a world of difference.
We all have our favourite sleeping position, but did you know that the side you sleep on could be affecting how well you digest food? In this article we'll cover why your body needs a certain amount of time to digest food—and what kinds of foods take longer to digest than others. We'll also talk about which is the best side to sleep on for digestion, so that your body can get all the rest it needs while it's breaking down your meals.
How long does it take to digest food after eating it?
The amount of time it takes food to digest depends on a number of factors, including what you ate and how quickly it's digested. Chewing food thoroughly is one way to speed up the process.
The digestion process
In general, the body takes about 24 hours to digest food. Your stomach does most of the heavy lifting (60%) and then your small intestine takes over for another 20%. The final leg is your large intestine or colon, which gets the last 20% of food into its proper place in 12-18 hours.
In real terms
So let's say you eat a sandwich at midday. In two hours, 60% has been digested by your stomach. The other 40% will be broken down by your small intestine over the next four hours (which is when your body should fully absorb all its nutrients). By 8PM, all that's left are some indigestible parts of plant cells in your large intestine (the colon takes about 12 hours to do this).
Which food takes the most time to digest?
In some cases, certain types of foods have been shown to digest faster than others. For example, meat and bread digest more quickly than fruits or vegetables.
High-fat foods such as cheese are harder for your body to break down than high-carbohydrate foods, so they'll stay in your stomach longer. High-protein foods also take longer to digest than, say, starches or grains.
Does it matter when you eat?
If you eat close to bedtime, the food could sit in your stomach all night long—causing bloating and discomfort when trying to sleep. In fact, recent research has shown that eating a large meal before bed can disrupt sleep patterns by preventing melatonin production until after midnight. (If you want to explore this more, we’ve got a whole blog on chrono consumption—the process of timing your food with your sleep cycle.)
Which is the best side to sleep on for digestion?
When it comes to which side to lay on for digestion—sleeping on your left is the clear winner.
Sleeping on your left side
Sleeping on your left side can help with digestion, prevent heartburn and reduce acid reflux. It may also help to sleep with the head of your bed elevated slightly by placing a few pillows underneath it, if you suffer from acid reflux or heartburn when lying down.
Sleeping on your right side
However, sleeping on your right side can actually cause heartburn and acid reflux. A study in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology found that people who slept on their right side were more likely to experience gas and bloating than those who slept on their left side or back. The researchers speculated that this was because when we're lying down with our right side facing up—as opposed to our left—our stomach contents (which are heavier) move toward the lower part of our abdomen—because gravity pulls them down toward our feet.
Sleeping on your front
Sleeping on your stomach may also cause heartburn or acid reflux due to this same reason—because basically gravity puts pressure on the stomach while it’s in a horizontal position. It can also put pressure directly on top of the oesophagus (the tube connecting mouth and stomach), which can increase irritation in those areas.
Sleeping on your back
Finally, when considering what side to lay on for digestion, you might want to avoid lying on your back too. Sleeping flat on your back might seem like it would reduce acid reflux, since gravity wouldn't be pushing against anything inside you anymore—but that's actually not true. Your digestive system may not function as well when laying flat, so if you do find yourself sleeping on your back, try propping up one shoulder with a pillow.
If you want to improve your digestion and reduce bloating, sleeping on your left side is a great solution. Simply turning around when you go to bed can make a world of difference in how your body processes food.
It’s worth noting that there are many different factors that can affect our digestion, from what we eat and drink to how much exercise we get each day. Your body is unique, so try these tips out and see what works best.
If you’re struggling with your sluggish digestion and poor sleep, look to get in nutrients such as zinc, omega 3, and B vitamins—all of which promote sound, restorative sleep.