We all know that duration of sleep is critical for mental and physical well being, but it turns out that sleep position may be another helpful factor in the quest for optimal health.
Some experts advise that the best side to sleep on is the left side.
Now, a recent study published in The Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology suggests this is true. It is explained by Dr. John Doulliard to help us understand the reasons better.
While not all experts are right and everyone is individual and unique, it appears that sleeping on our left side may be helpful for our digestion, our backs and our hearts.
It can be important especially later in pregnancy with a big baby or multiples due to the positions of different organs. My OB informed me of this when I was pregnant with our twins, and I wanted to enhance good blood circulation to the babies and also get better sleep myself.
Six Potential Benefits From Sleeping on Your Left Side
The left side of the body is the dominate side in the lymphatic system. During the day, lymph is circulated by muscle pumping action. At night, when you sleep on the left, your body can still effectively filter toxins through the lymph nodes via gravity alone. Most of the lymph naturally drains towards the left lymphatic duct that is located on the left side. (source)
2. The left side may improve digestion and elimination.
When it comes to digestion, sleeping on the left side may be preferable to the right side due to the simple matter of gravity. This allows the stomach and pancreas to hang naturally (our stomach lies on the left side of the body), which can keep the movement of pancreatic enzymes and other digestive processes humming. (Need help visualizing this process? Consult the image here).
Secondly, sleeping on the left side allows for better elimination of toxins in the gut overnight. The small intestine expresses toxins through the ileocecal valve on the right side of the body into the beginning of the large intestine. The large intestine travels round the right side of your body, crosses your belly and descends down the left side. Sleeping on the left side allows the gravity to move food waste towards the large intestine in the simplest way possible. The toxins move very easily towards the descending colon, and in the morning elimination will be simplified. Regular daily elimination is one big key to reducing toxic load in the body.
3. For the health of your heart.
Over 80% of the heart is on the left side of the body and the aorta leaves our heart making an arc to the left side as it heads to the lower body. If we sleep on this side, the blood exiting the heart flows downhill and the heart doesn’t have to work as hard.
4. For the health of your spleen.
The spleen is also on the left side of the body. It is like a big lymph node. This organ is also a basic part of the lymphatic system, being necessary to filter blood and execute an adequate lymphatic function. If we sleep on the left side of our body, we will help get our fluids directed to the spleen in a more simple way, favoring the natural gravity in our body.
5. The left side is ideal for pregnant women.
As a baby grows heavier in its mother’s womb, resting on the left relieves pressure on the vena cava, the large vein that carries blood from the lower part of our bodies back to our heart. It can also help to relieve pressure on the back, keep the growing uterus from pressing on the liver, and increase blood flow to the uterus, kidneys, and fetus. For this reason, most doctors recommend that pregnant women spend as much of their sleep time as possible on their left sides.
6. The left side may reduce heartburn.
It also reduces acid reflux. Again, see the last diagram above.
The study published in The Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology found that lying on the left side can help reduce acid reflux symptoms. Again this is because our stomach lies on the left side. Conversely, lying on the right side may aggravate these symptoms. The effects are fairly immediate; if you’re struggling with heartburn after a meal, try taking a 10-minute lie-down on your left side.
Do you nap?
If you are someone who takes a nap or someone who feels obligated to do so after eating a meal, remember to sleep on the left side. This will favor digestion.
This approach will not help everyone, certainly, but if you struggle with some of the health issues above (or are pregnant) it might be worth a try to test how it works for you.
How to make the flip to the left side
If you are ready to make the switch, you’ll find that it may take some time to build the new habit of sleeping on your left side. You may want to experiment with putting a body pillow behind your back so that it’s harder for you to roll off of your left during sleep. It can also be helpful to try sleeping on the opposite side of the bed than you normally do; that way your sleep orientation (ie., facing out of the bed) won’t feel much different (even if you’re sleeping on your opposite side).
Have you ever experimented with your sleep position?