We’ve all experienced indigestion. And it can cause a lot of discomfort – from feeling bloated or sick to heartburn, belching, and bitter tasting fluids or food coming up into your mouth. In fact, acid reflux – where food from the stomach flows into your food pipe – is a common symptom of indigestion.[Indigestion].NHS. And most people with acid reflux (or gastroesophageal reflux) experience a worsening of their symptoms, including heartburn when they go to sleep or try to. Some people may even wake up choking or coughing or experience severe chest pain if stomach acid flows down the food pipe into their larynx and throat.[GERD and Sleep].Sleep Foundation. But why does this happen? And is there anything that you can do to help ease this?
What’s The Connection Between Sleep And Digestion?
According to ayurveda, sleep is one of the important pillars (upastambha traya) which sustain life. Nidra is also important as ahara (food). Getting enough nidra (sleep) at the right times supports wellbeing and good quality of life. Proper nidra protects growth and development of body (dhatu pushti).
To understand the link between sleep and indigestion let’s do a quick recap of what we learned about digestion in school.
- Our digestive system breaks down food into its simplest form, that is, carbs are converted to glucose, protein is converted into amino acids and fats are broken down into fatty acids.
- This process begins in the mouth where food is ground by your teeth and mixed with saliva making it easier to swallow.
- The muscular contractions of your food pipe then push the food through a sphincter (small muscle ring which can contract and relax) into your stomach where it’s broken down chemically and mechanically before it’s pushed through another sphincter into the small intestine.
- Here it mixes with bile and more digestive enzymes before nutrients are absorbed from it and waste is moved into the large intestine and then removed from the body.[Digestive system explained]. Better Health Channel.
- These nutrients are then absorbed into the bloodstream and carried to every cell in the body.
But when you go to sleep the functioning of the gastrointestinal system is significantly reduced.Dantas, Roberto Oliveira, and Cynthia Gutierrez Aben-Athar. “Aspects of sleep effects on the digestive tract.” Arquivos de gastroenterologia 39, no. 1 (2002): 55-59. This is why both modern science and ayurveda recommend having your dinner a few hours before going to sleep.
What Is The Ideal Time To Sleep After A Meal?
Ayurveda places a lot of value on proper sleep. Sleep (nidra) of good quality in the proper quantity is thought to enhance sukh (happiness), bala (immunity and strength), pushti (growth and nourishment), gyaanam (intellect and knowledge), vrishta (sexual vigor), and jeevitam (life span). On the other hand, improper sleep (whether it’s excessive, inadequate, or irregular) is considered to be responsible for harmful effects such as dukh (misery and grief), abalam (loss of immunity and strength), karshyam (emaciation or weakness), agyanam (ignorance and a weak intellect), kleebata (sterility and impotence), and ajeevitam (death).
According to the ayurvedic clock, it is considered best to go to sleep before 10 at night and wake up before sunrise – a period during which kapha dosha dominates and induces a sense of dullness in your body. And 7 pm is thought to be an ideal time for dinner. But even if you eat later than that it is considered important to leave a gap of at least two hours between dinner and bedtime. Modern science agrees with this ancient wisdom. According to experts, whether you’re sitting or standing, gravity can keep stomach acid in your stomach, so it’s best to eat 3 hours before bedtime. But this doesn’t just apply to dinner, it also means avoiding midnight snacks and naps after lunch.Sabharwal, Pooja, Sonali Shilpa Ekka, Shilpa Ekka, M. B. Gaur, Yogesh Kumar Pandey, and Amit Kumar Sharm. “A SCIENTIFIC AYURVEDIC EXPLORATIO.”. Harvard Health Publishing.}}
Can Sleeping Position Affect Your Digestion?
Yes. The position in which you sleep can help your digestive system take advantage of the power of gravity.
Which Sleep Position Is Better?
Here are a couple of tips on the best sleep position for your digestive system:
1. Sleep On Your Left Side
According to experts, sleeping on your left side might be better for the functioning of your digestive system. There are a couple of reasons for this. For one, your stomach is located on the left side of the body and gravity can help waste move from your small intestine to the large intestine. Research has also found that sleeping on your left side reduces instances of acid reflux, with sleeping in all other positions including sleeping on your back, being associated with greater instances of acid reflux.Khoury, Ramez M., Luciana Camacho-Lobato, Philip O. Katz, Muhammad A. Mohiuddin, and Donald O. Castell. “Influence of spontaneous sleep positions on nighttime recumbent reflux in patients with … Continue reading .OPA Cancer Charity.
2. Elevate The Head Of Your Bed
Elevating the head of your bed can make it hard for stomach acid to travel from your stomach to your food pipe against the force of gravity. Your head should ideally be six to eight inches above your feet. You can use bed risers on the legs which support the head of your bed to achieve this. Alternatively, you can use a foam wedge underneath your upper body. Stacking pillows on top of each other might not provide the uniform support that your body needs.[9 ways to relieve acid reflux without medication]. Harvard Health Publishing.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of Different Sleeping Positions?
Here are a few factors you might want to consider while picking a sleep position:
1. Sleeping On Your Back
This position places the least pressure on your back. Sleeping on your side comes second as far as pressure on your back is concerned. And sleeping on your stomach places the most pressure on your back. When you lie on your back it helps to distribute your body weight evenly and keep your spine aligned.
This position is beneficial for people with:
- lumbar spinal pain
- neck pain
- nasal congestion
- a habit of grinding teeth while asleep
But it might not be ideal for pregnant women, people with acid reflux, older or heavier adults, and those who have sleep apnea or snoring. People with certain kinds of back pain might also want to avoid this position.
Cons Of Sleeping On Your Back
- One major issue with back sleeping is acid reflux, as this position allows acid to travel back up the throat.
- Sleeping on the back can make snoring or sinus conditions worse. This happens because the back of the tongue collapses into the airway, obstructing breathing. People who snore should try sleeping on their side.
- A person could help alleviate these symptoms by adding pillows to elevate their head. This can also help with headaches.
2. Sleeping On Your Side
Sleeping on your side with a pillow between your legs is a great position for people with lower back pain. Side sleeping can also be helpful for those with back or neck pain. However, it might not be ideal for those with shoulder pain as it can lead to tightness or soreness in the shoulders. It may also put too much pressure on the stomach or lungs as well as cause numbness if one retains the position for too long. It might be a good idea to shift positions once in a while and use a suitable mattress and pillow. Using a mattress which allows your shoulders and hips to sink lower than your middle spine can be helpful.
Side sleeping can be useful for:
- those who have acid reflux
- those who have sleep apnea or snore
- pregnant women
- older people
And as we already saw, sleeping on the left side can be more beneficial than sleeping on the right.
3. Sleeping On Your Stomach
This position can be helpful for those who snore as it helps to open up your airway. However, since you have to work against gravity to breath, this position can cause your sleep to be less restful. Moreover, it doesn’t give you much back support. And you also end up twisting your head and neck so that it’s not aligned with your spine. Moreover, prolonged sleeping in this position can cause numbness and tingling sensation, so, be mindful to change position often. Pregnant women as well as those worried about back or neck pain should avoid sleeping on the stomach.[Sleeping Posture].DePaul University.[ Best Sleeping Positions].Sleep Foundation.
General Tips That Can Help With Indigestion And Acid Reflux
Here are a few tips that can help you avoid indigestion or acid reflux:
1. Have Small Frequent Meals
When your stomach is really full, more stomach acid can flow into your food pipe. So if you regularly experience acid reflux you might want to have small meals more frequently rather than having 3 large meals a day.
2. Avoid Foods That Trigger Acid Reflux Or Indigestion
Some foods are more likely to trigger indigestion or acid reflux. For instance, spicy foods, fatty foods, tomatoes, garlic, onions, alcohol, chocolate, tea, and coffee are common culprits that throw your digestive system out of whack. Try eliminating these foods from your diet and add them back one by one to figure out which ones affect your digestive system.
3. Avoid Carbonated Drinks
Carbonated drinks make you burp. This sends acid into your food pipe.
4. Avoid Vigorous Physical Activity Immediately After Having Food
A strenuous workout or vigorous physical activity can send stomach acid into your food pipe. Avoid strenuous physical activity – particularly anything which requires you to bend over – for a couple of hours after you have food. But an after dinner stroll shouldn’t cause any problems.
5. Keep To A Healthy Weight
Excess body weight can reduce support for the sphincter between your stomach and food pipe (the lower esophageal sphincter) and reduce the pressure that keeps it closed. This could cause heartburn and acid reflux.
6. Quit Smoking
Here’s another reason to quit smoking – nicotine may relax the sphincter between your stomach and food pipe making acid reflux more likely.
7. Avoid Medicines That Worsen Indigestion
Many medicines, even common ones like ibuprofen and aspirin, can make indigestion worse. Check with your doctor if any medicine that you’re on can worsen indigestion and see if any alternatives are available.[9 ways to relieve acid reflux without medication]. Harvard Health Publishing.[Indigestion].NHS.
8. Avoid Stress
When presented with a potentially threatening situation, the sympathetic nervous system — a part of the body’s autonomic nervous system, which regulates bodily functions like the heartbeat, breathing, and blood pressure — responds by triggering a “fight-or-flight response,” releasing the stress hormone cortisol to make the body alert and prepared to face the threat.
Stress causes physiological changes, like a heightened state of awareness, faster breathing and heart rates, elevated blood pressure, a rise in blood cholesterol, and an increase in muscle tension.When stress activates the flight-or-flight response in your central nervous system, it can affect your digestive system by:
- Causing your esophagus to go into spasms
- Increasing the acid in your stomach, which results in indigestion
- Making you feel nauseous
- Giving you diarrhea or constipation
In more serious cases, stress may cause a decrease in blood flow and oxygen to the stomach, which could lead to cramping, inflammation, or an imbalance of gut bacteria. It can also exacerbate gastrointestinal disorders, including:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Peptic ulcers
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Although stress may not cause stomach ulcers or inflammatory bowel disease, it can make these and other diseases of digestion worse. So it’s important to take measures to be in control during stressful situations and find ways to keep yourself calm.
|↑2||[GERD and Sleep].Sleep Foundation.|
|↑3||[Digestive system explained]. Better Health Channel.|
|↑4||Dantas, Roberto Oliveira, and Cynthia Gutierrez Aben-Athar. “Aspects of sleep effects on the digestive tract.” Arquivos de gastroenterologia 39, no. 1 (2002): 55-59.|
|↑5||Sabharwal, Pooja, Sonali Shilpa Ekka, Shilpa Ekka, M. B. Gaur, Yogesh Kumar Pandey, and Amit Kumar Sharm. “A SCIENTIFIC AYURVEDIC EXPLORATIO.”|
|↑6||Khoury, Ramez M., Luciana Camacho-Lobato, Philip O. Katz, Muhammad A. Mohiuddin, and Donald O. Castell. “Influence of spontaneous sleep positions on nighttime recumbent reflux in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease.” The American journal of gastroenterology 94, no. 8 (1999): 2069-2073.|
|↑7||.OPA Cancer Charity.|
|↑8, ↑11||[9 ways to relieve acid reflux without medication]. Harvard Health Publishing.|
|↑9||[Sleeping Posture].DePaul University.|
|↑10||[ Best Sleeping Positions].Sleep Foundation.|