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Is The Side You Sleep on Negatively Impacting Your Gut?

Is The Side You Sleep on Negatively Impacting Your Gut?

Gut health issues affect a significant number of people, with 40% of the world's population experiencing chronic gastrointestinal problems. This includes irritable bowel syndrome and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). But did you know that what's in your gut can impact your sleep?

A recent study revealed that gut bacteria can directly influence sleep quality and even increase the risk of insomnia. However, did you know there could be a 'right' way to sleep if you suffer from gut or other digestive-related issues? And that is, on your left…

First things first, is there a right side of the bed? According to Ayurvedic principles - from Ayurveda, one of the oldest healing sciences - sleeping on your left side is best to aid digestion and promote a healthy lifestyle.

Photo of person with gastro-intestinal issues highlighted

How can sleeping on your left side improve gut health and overall sleep quality?

Sleeping on the left side has many benefits for your health and overall sleep quality, which is why.

Sleeping on your left side could help you go to the bathroom

Constipation can and does affect sleep. Men who get less sleep than recommended (around five to six hours) are more at risk of constipation. However, women who get too much sleep (around nine hours a night) are more likely to experience constipation, so it's clear to see the link between that and sleep.

The stomach is positioned on our left side, which suggests that sleeping on that side could help us digest food more effectively as opposed to back or front sleeping, which could lead to obstructions.

As we sleep on our left side, the waste can travel freely through the colon, ending in the descending colon. As this journey could be improved with left-side sleeping, bathroom trips in the morning could be improved, especially for those who suffer from chronic constipation.

Bloating could be improved on your side

Add to that, if you do experience bloating, sleeping on your side could be improved as gravity helps waste travel through to your colon, which can alleviate bloating symptoms, leading to more improved sleep.

Do you suffer from acid reflux at night? Turn to your left

Around 20% of the UK's population (and the same for the US) - or 13.2 million people - experience problems with severe acid reflux.

Issues with acid reflux or Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can significantly impact sleep, with studies showing how it is associated with sleep disturbances. A separate study found that a staggering 75% of people who suffered from heartburn and other similar symptoms had a negative sleep quality, with a further 40% saying it affected their ability to function the next day.

However, it has been reported that reflux episodes are greater when sleeping on your right side compared to your left, suggesting the left side is the correct way to turn. It's thought this is because this side helps keep the gastric juices lower and less able to travel to your oesophagus.

We recommend avoiding sleeping on your back if you suffer from acid reflux, as this allows the acid to flow back to your oesophagus unimpeded, likely resulting in a sleepless night.

Man sleeping with breathing apparatus

Sleeping on your side can reduce symptoms of sleep apnoea

There are two types of sleep apnoea: obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) and central sleep apnoea (CSA). OSA happens when a narrow or blocked airway obstructs breathing, whereas CSA occurs when the signals from the brain to the body to breathe fail. If you sleep on your back, you may experience more severe symptoms. But they can improve with side sleeping.

Sleeping on your side can help reduce any impacts on your breathing. With OSA, sleeping on your side can stop any obstructions to your airway, as sleeping on your back, for instance, can strain your airway more. While CSA isn't caused by obstructions on the airway, sleeping on your side can improve sleep.

Sleeping on your left side facilitates healthy blood flow

It's recommended that pregnant women sleep on their left side, and there's a reason for that. Sleeping on the left side can help blood flow through your body, meaning the baby receives the required nutrients and oxygen. However, sleeping on the right side could put more pressure on other organs, such as the liver.

Pregnant woman sleeping on her side

If you snore, turn on your side

If you snore, your side is your best bet for a good night's sleep. As you snore, your mouth and tongue become more relaxed, which could mean it vibrates as you breathe, hence the sound. Sleeping on your back makes you more prone to snoring as your stomach can fall to the back of your throat, vibrating and causing an obstruction.

However, sleeping on your side will keep those airways open and prevent your tongue from falling to the back of your throat. If you have a partner who snores, try to coax them onto their side and support their back with pillows to prevent them from falling onto their back.

Side sleeping can even improve brain health

Did you know that sleeping on your side, both the left and right side, can improve the health of your brain? Like your body, your brain has waste to eliminate, and sleeping on your side can help clear that waste. One study found that side sleeping was better at clearing this brain waste than sleeping on your back or front. Doing this can even help with proper functioning the next day, as clearing your brain waste is just as crucial as other bodily functions.

Side sleeping is the best position for you to sleep in during hot weather

As we move into warmer weather, sleeping on your side could even provide relief when tossing and turning during the heat.

We lose up to 44 hours of sleep annually due to hot weather

Staggeringly, across the globe, hot temperatures can affect sleep that the average person loses around 44 hours of sleep due to heat. Further studies have also discovered that heat can decrease REM sleep and increase the number of awakenings.

If you are one of the many who struggle with heat, side sleeping provides the least contact with the mattress and allows heat to escape from the body more quickly than other positions. For even better sleep, we recommend placing a pillow between your knees to stop skin-to-skin contact, which can cause friction if you sleep without pyjamas.

Woman sleeping on her side

How to transition to sleeping on your left side

Are you a back or stomach sleeper? That doesn't mean you can't transition to sleeping on your left side. There are ways you can make side sleeping easier and even enjoy a better night's rest.

1. Choose the correct pillow, as almost one-fifth wake up with a sore neck

According to the data from our bedding calculator, 18% of people wake up with a sore neck each day due to their pillows. That equates to around 11.8 million people in the UK. But choosing the correct pillow for sleeping on your side is essential, as you need to make sure your neck and spine are aligned in one clear line to avoid any tilts to your neck that could leave you waking up in pain.

2. Select a medium-firm mattress

If your mattress is too soft, that could lead to you sinking into the mattress during the night and potentially waking up with joint pain, particularly from your shoulders. However, too firm, and that could also lead to aches on the side you are sleeping on.

A medium-firm mattress can mould around your body and ensure you don't sink too deep into the mattress while supporting your side. Memory foam and latex foam mattresses work particularly well for side-sleepers, as they contour to your body for customised support.

We'd recommend the Aire Memory and Reflex Foam 1000 Pocket Sprung Mattress for those seeking a medium firmness, whereas the Mersey Memory and Reflex Foam 1000 Pocket Sprung Mattress is great for those wanting a medium-firm rating.

3. Use a pillow between your knees

A pillow between your knees can prevent skin-to-skin contact, which can impact your sleep, especially if you tend to get too hot during the night. Moreover, this pillow can also help keep your spine aligned as it can keep your hips in place and stop your legs from collapsing in on themselves.

To prevent yourself from rolling on your back, you could also place a pillow behind your back to support it and keep it in place.

4. Swap sides with your partner if you like to face each other

Research has revealed that the further apart you sleep from your partner, the more unhappy the relationship. However, if sleeping on your left side means you need to face away from each other due to your side of the bed, switch it up. That way, you can still spend time facing each other in comfortable positions, but you also have the opportunity to move to the other side if needed.

If you are interested in improving your sleep, check out our tips on how to sleep comfortably with your partner.

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