Trying to find the best position to sleep in for constipation can sometimes feel like a waking nightmare. The more you toss, turn, and try to get comfortable, the more your tummy bothers you and the less quality sleep you’re able to get. As a result, you wake up tired, possibly cranky, and even more miserable than you were when those digestive problems first kicked in.
Just to make things worse, the quality, restorative sleep you’re missing out on is exactly the thing you need to help your body recover and restore itself to optimum health. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.
In this comprehensive guide to the best way to sleep for constipation relief, we’ll talk you through the most helpful sleeping position to ease your discomfort.
We will outline the two positions you should try and avoid and offer our top tips and suggestions on the best position to sleep for constipation to further improve your nightly rest when you’re all bunged up.
What Causes Constipation at Night?
Sleep and constipation have a bidirectional cause-and-effect relationship with one another.
Sleep disturbance has been said to lead to digestive issues such as constipation and IBS in healthy individuals.
One study conducted in 2018 examined the bowel health of nurses working on rotating shifts compared to those working regular daytime hours.
Constipation symptoms were evident in 24% of nurses whose rotating schedules meant they couldn’t maintain a consistent sleep schedule. This is compared to only 13% of nurses who could go to bed at the same time every night.
So, while it may be the lack of proper sleep that’s contributing to your tummy trouble in the first place, your constipation could well be the reason you’re waking up multiple times in the night.
Ultimately, this creates something of a Catch -22 – can’t sleep because you’re constipated, can’t empty your bowels because you’re not sleeping.
Not that poor quality sleep may be the only contributing factor.
Medication, particularly narcotic pain medication, can often lead to constipation, with as many as 40 – 60% of people taking opioid medication said to suffer from what’s known as Opioid-Induced Constipation (OIC).
Elsewhere, consuming alcohol before bed can result in that unpleasant bunged-up feeling as it causes us to urinate more. This leaves us dehydrated, something which is frequently linked to increased constipation.
Finally, the kind of food you eat in the hours before bed can also play a role.
Dairy, in particular, has been linked to constipation in children while things like pasta, white bread, and foods with high levels of saturated fats may also be the root cause of your inability to sleep with constipation.
Fortunately, there’s much that can be done to tackle these root causes of nighttime constipation, and we’ll share those with you later in this guide.
For now, though, let’s talk about your sleeping position.
Why Lying on Your Left is the Best Sleep Position for Constipation Relief?
Lying on your side is typically considered the number one best sleeping position for all kinds of ailments and conditions, helping to alleviate everything from sleep apnea to heartburn and period pain.
When it comes to constipation, the best approach is to lie on your left-hand side.
This is simply due to the asymmetrical way that our bodies are designed, with our stomach being on the left-hand side of our body.
When we sleep on that side of the body, the natural impact of gravity helps food waste move more through the body into the large intestine, where it’s ready to be disposed of in your morning BM.
How to Sleep on Your Left-Hand Side for Constipation Relief?
To prevent a bunged-up belly from ruining your nightly rest, lie on your left-hand side with your head slightly elevated and a small pillow at the small of your back for support.
You may also find it helpful to place a second pillow between your knees to maintain proper spinal alignment. This is useful for preventing other issues such as a sore back or neck and shoulder pain from adding to your troubles.
How you position the legs depends on what you feel most comfortable with.
Some people prefer to curl up in the fetal position, and if that’s what helps you to drift off to sleep the easiest, go for it.
However, you may find that this position makes any tummy cramps even more painful, and it’s certainly not the most conducive position for getting things moving down there.
With that in mind, you may prefer to lie with your legs out straight, holding the pillow between your knees and upper thighs for maximum digestive movement and minimum pain.
Sleeping Positions to Avoid When Constipated
If you find that sleeping on your left-hand side makes you even more comfortable, don’t be worried about switching to right-side sleeping.
Though it may not be as beneficial to you as sleeping on your left, it’s certainly going to be better than the following two positions:
1. Sleeping on Your Back
When you sleep on your back (what experts call the ‘supine’ position), gravity works against you rather than for you. This leads to everything remaining stuck for much longer than average, a problem that can cause a whole host of gastrointestinal symptoms.
Lying on your back may also put pressure on the back and sides of your body. However, this may not directly contribute to your constipation but will undoubtedly contribute to a general feeling of discomfort, which, let’s be honest, is the last thing you need when you’re already constipated.
2. Sleeping on Your Stomach
Unless it’s legitimately the only way you can doze off, sleeping on your stomach is rarely a good idea.
Even if your digestive system isn’t giving you any grief, stomach sleeping can lead to back pain, neck pain, and a host of other sore spots.
It also puts additional pressure on the stomach and compresses the digestive system, making your symptoms feel even worse.
How to Sleep Better With Constipation: Do’s and Don’ts
Sleeping on your left-hand side is a great place to start when it comes to overcoming constipation at night, but it’s far from the only thing you should do if you want to enjoy the kind of quality, restorative rest that’s going to help your digestive system get back to its normal, healthy self.
Below, you’ll find some of the most helpful things to do before bed and those things you should avoid at all costs to help you get the rest you need and deserve.
Do: Check Your Medication
As we mentioned earlier, constipation is a common side-effect of many medications. This is particularly true among elderly people, though regardless of your age, medications such as opioids and antidepressants may well be the reason your blocked-up bowels are keeping you awake at night.
As such, one of the best first steps to take is to check your medication for its side effects. If constipation is there, speak to your doctor, who can recommend the best course of action, whether that’s switching medications or simply giving you something to counter the side effects.
Don’t: Drink Alcohol Before Bed
We’ve said it countless times before, but we’ll say it again, drinking alcohol is one of the most detrimental things you can do before bed.
Alcohol is well known as a diuretic, which means it can leave your body feeling dehydrated, and since poor hydration is a common cause of constipation, it’s best to avoid that nightly glass of wine, at least until you’re sure it’s not going to lead to interrupted sleep.
Do: Pay Attention to Your Diet
If your diet is high in gluten, dairy, red meats, and fatty, processed foods, it’s a good idea to switch things up to a diet that’s more conducive to healthy digestion.
All of those foods are likely to be the reason (or at least one of the reasons) why you’re so bunged up.
Meanwhile, foods that are high in fiber, such as whole grains, oatmeal, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, are known to help to improve the way food moves through your digestive system, ultimately preventing constipation from occurring in the first place.
On a related note, if you eat late at night, you might want to think about shifting dinner to an earlier time so that your body has more opportunity to get anything out of your system before it’s time to close the curtains.
Don’t: Neglect Your Water Intake
Just because you took our advice and stopped drinking alcohol before bed doesn’t mean that you’re necessarily at the right level of hydration for good digestive health.
Any number of things can lead to poor hydration, so it’s best to counter this by drinking more water throughout the day, keeping in mind that if you overdo it with the H2O before bed, there’s a greater chance that your sleep will be interrupted by a full bladder.
Do: Take Exercise
It’s no secret that regular exercise can have a tremendous positive impact on our ability to sleep, improving not just the quality of our rest but how much of it we actually get.
So, even if you just did a little moderate exercise once a day, you’re already setting yourself up for a successful night’s sleep.
But wait, there’s more.
There’s also a strong relationship between constipation and exercise, as the colon responds well to physical activity, meaning less chance of nightly bowel problems.
Frequently Asked Questions About Sleeping With Constipation
Does sleeping make constipation worse?
Poor quality sleep can increase the likelihood of constipation. If you’re sleeping too much, not sleeping enough, or simply not getting enough restorative rest while you’re in bed, that could be the reason you’re backed up.
What side do I lay on to improve digestion?
Lying on the left-hand side is the recommended sleep to improve digestion as it allows gravity to pull waste towards the colon.
Can staying in bed cause constipation?
Yes. Any long period of inactivity can be enough to cause digestive troubles. Upping your exercise or just generally being more physically active can make a big difference to your digestive health.
The Best Way to Sleep for Constipation: A Final Word of Advice
Constipation is no fun at the best of times, but when it’s keeping you awake in the middle of the night, it takes on a whole new level of discomfort.
Yet if you’ve read this guide, you’ve armed yourself with all the know-how you need to get the kind of peaceful, healing rest you need.
You know, for example, that the best way to sleep for constipation is on your left-hand side, and you know that lifestyle factors such as what you eat and drink, as well as how much you exercise may make a difference too.
However, if there’s only one more word of advice we could leave you with today, it’s this:
The best position to sleep in is whichever one helps you to doze off comfortably. So, if you find that lying on your side is actually making your sleep worse rather than better, don’t worry about switching to your back.
Even though it may not be the most conducive to alleviating constipation, if that’s the way you minimize your pain and enjoy comfort, simply do what works.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that constipation typically only lasts for a few days. So, if your bowels have been bothering you for weeks or even longer, it’s always worth consulting a medical professional who can diagnose the issue and help you get the kind of treatment that’s right for you.
Until then, help yourself to make your nightly rest even more peaceful by checking out our guide to maintaining a healthy sleep schedule and how to sleep well when you’re stressed.