The Best Sleep Position If You Have An Upset Stomach

The conversation around sleep positions is an interesting one, to say the least. It travels the gamut of what sleeping on your back says about your personality to how you can avoid snoring by adjusting which side you sleep on.

When it comes to something as uncomfortable as an upset stomach — whether it's caused by indigestion or acid reflux — it's hard to switch off the soreness and get the sleep you want at night. You might already be familiar with tossing and turning, trying to find a comfortable spot. 

It turns out that sleeping on your left side has been associated with better relief when it comes to stomach pain caused by indigestion, heartburn, and acid reflux. The reason is related to where your stomach is positioned — on the upper left side of your abdomen. By sleeping on your left side, you're allowing gravity to do its work and aid digestion. You're keeping the food and stomach juices where they're supposed to be — moving along lower on the digestive tract, per Better Sleep. Associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins Medicine, Dr. Rachel Salas added that flipping from your right to your left side can also help pregnant women who experience heartburn. 

Left-side sleeping associated with GERD relief

A 2022 study published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology done on 100 patients with symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux at night found that sleeping on their left sides reduced discomfort by 50% or more. Yet another study done in 2006 and published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that slightly elevating your head and sleeping on your left side could help with symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Even when it comes to morning bowel movement for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), lazy bowel syndrome, or irritable bowel disease (IBD), there's a benefit to letting gravity help your food (and eventually waste) move along your digestive system, per Healthline. You might be more regular if you sleep on your left side. Talk about surprising ways your sleep position can impact your health

Turns out the sphincter muscle (called the ileocecal valve) which separates your large intestine from your small intestine is on the right side of your body, via Aqueeq Internal Medicine. When you sleep on your left, you're giving this muscle some much-needed respite. It is important to note, however, that sleeping position alone can't help with an upset stomach, acid reflux, or other digestive issues. 

Tips to help with an upset stomach (minus the sleep position)

With conditions like GERD and acid reflux, it is important to pay attention to factors such as diet, overeating, eating too fast, eating too close to bedtime, alcohol consumption, being overweight, and smoking, according to Northside Gastroenterology Associates

While you may have found the best sleep position if you struggle with acid reflux, you're not giving yourself a chance at a good night's rest if you eat a large meal less than two hours before you head to bed. Your digestive system needs time to do its thing. Not giving it that time can only make for an uncomfortable night's sleep. 

As gastroenterologist, Dr. Purna C. Kashyap explained, raising the head of your bed could also help when it comes to acid reflux (via Mayo Clinic). Also, "don't eat foods that seem to trigger heartburn — such as fried or fatty foods, chocolate, and peppermint," added the doctor. Back to sleeping on your left side, if you're not used to sleeping on your side, you can get the help of a body pillow or leg pillow to get comfortable, per Cleveland Clinic. You should try to avoid curling up too much — in a fetal position — as this can put stress on your spine, knees, and neck.