We all know that duration of sleep is critical for mental and physical wellbeing, but it turns out that sleep position may be another important factor in the quest for optimum health.
Specifically, a small body of research suggests that, for many people, sleeping on the left side may be the ticket to better health and better sleep. The theory stems fromÂ Ayurveda, a holistic approach to health and medicine that originated in India.
So why all the fuss about sleeping on the left side? Turns out it may be good for our digestion, our backs, and even our hearts due to the positions of different organs. Here are six potential benefits that may be derived from catching some Zzzs while lying on your left side.
1. It bolsters the lymphatic system.
According to Ayurvedic medicine,Â sleeping on your left sideÂ allows your body to betterÂ filter lymph fluid and waste via the lymph nodes as the left side of our body is the dominant lymphatic side. Western research has also found that sleeping on the left side can help the bodyÂ process waste materialsÂ from the brain. In contrast, sleeping on your right side can decrease the lymphatic systemâ€™s efficiency.
2. It may improve digestion.
When it comes to digestion, sleeping on the left side may be preferable to the right due to the simple matter of gravity. Specifically, lying on the left side allowsÂ food waste to easily moveÂ from the large intestine into the descending colon (meaning youâ€™re more likely to have a bowel movement upon waking). Sleeping on the left side also allows theÂ stomach and pancreas to hang naturallyÂ (our stomach lies on the left side of the body), which can keep the development of pancreatic enzymes and other digestive processes humming. (Need help visualizing this process? Consult the image above).
3. Itâ€™s good for your heart.
Doctors have long recommended thatÂ pregnant women sleep on their left sideÂ in order to improve circulation to the heart. Even if youâ€™re not pregnant (or a woman), sleeping on the left side may help to take some pressure off the heart, as gravity canÂ facilitate both lymph drainageÂ toward and aortic circulation away from the heart. That said, it should be noted that thereâ€™sÂ some debateÂ over whether sleeping on the left or right side is best for heart health.
4. Itâ€™s ideal for pregnant women.
Sleeping on the left side doesnâ€™t only improve pregnant womenâ€™s circulation. It can alsoÂ help to relieveÂ pressure on the back, keep the uterus from squeezing the liver, and increase blood flow to the uterus, kidneys, and fetus. For this reason,Â doctors tend to recommendÂ that pregnant women spend as much of their sleep time as possible on their left sides.
5. It may reduce heartburn.
A study published inÂ The Journal of Clinical GastroenterologyÂ found that lying on the left side can helpÂ 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 youâ€™re struggling with heartburn after a meal, try taking a 10-minute lie-down on your left side.
6. It may relieve back pain.
People who suffer from chronic back pain may benefit from switching to left-side sleeping. Thatâ€™s because sleeping on your side canÂ relieve pressure on the spine. Feeling more comfortable, in turn, will improve your chances of getting a good nightâ€™s sleep.
While all of these factors point to compelling reasons to start sleeping on your left side, itâ€™s important to note that some peopleâ€”including those with heart disease, sleep apnea, glaucoma, and carpal tunnel syndromeâ€”may not benefitÂ from side sleeping. If youâ€™re unsure about what sleep positions may be best for you, itâ€™s always a good idea to consult a medical professional.