Sleep right, but left
I’ve always been a left-side sleeper until I read/heard that sleeping on your left side puts pressure on the heart. As my heart already beats to an erratic rhythm thanks to atrial fibrillation (AF), I tried very hard to switch to sleeping on my right. But this just disturbed my sleep, so there was much tossing and turning, and not enough rest.
Now, I can relax and return to leaning left as it seems left is best. Sleeping on one’s back is no good if sleep apnea is a problem (just ask spouse or family members if you snore like a buzzsaw) as you can cut off your air supply. You can sleep on your chest but it’s not comfortable for most people. So, we’re left with sleeping on the side. But why the left?
Top image: http://bit.ly/1Mw366v
While the western medicine jury is out on this issue, Ayurveda (India’s 5,000-year-old traditional healing practice) advocates resting on the left side to:
- Facilitate lymphatic drainage
- Make it easier for the heart to pump downhill
- Improve elimination
- Support healthy spleen function
- Encourage proper digestion
- Help circulation back to the heart
- Help bile flow more freely
John Douillard (http://lifespa.com/amazing-benefits-of-sleeping-on-your-left-side/) thinks the Indians were way ahead because, “The left side of the body is the dominant lymphatic side. The majority of the body’s lymph fluid drains into the thoracic duct, located on the left side. Along the way, lymph fluid carrying proteins, glucose and other metabolites and waste products is purified by lymph nodes and is then drained into the left side of the heart.”
Hence, if you have health problems or pains on the right side, Ayurveda suggests looking at imbalances in the liver and blood since the liver is on the right side of the body. However, problems on the left indicate chronic lymphatic congestion.
Clearing the gut
John Douillard says the small intestine dumps waste through the ileocecal valve (ICV) on the right side of the body into the beginning of the large intestine which then dumps waste into the descending colon on the left side. Sleeping on the left side allows gravity to encourage the food waste to move more easily from the small intestine into the large intestine through the ICV.
If you sleep on your left side, the lymph drainage toward the heart will again be helped by gravity, taking some of the workload off the heart as you sleep.
The aorta, which is the biggest artery in the body, leaves the top of the heart and arches to the left before it heads down into the abdomen. By sleeping on the left side, the heart is pumping its biggest payload downhill into the descending aorta.
Draining the spleen
The spleen, which is part of the lymphatic system, is also on the left. The spleen is much like a gigantic lymph node, except that in addition to filtering lymph it also filters blood. When you lie on the left side, drainage back to the spleen is once again helped and made easier by gravity.
The stomach and the pancreas (which make digestive enzymes) hang like slings on the left side. When you lie on the left side, the stomach and pancreas hang naturally, allowing for optimal and efficient digestion. If you get the chance to lie down after lunch, Ayurvedic practitioners would advise you to lie on your left for 10 minutes to help the body go into digestion mode.
While this is based on anatomical observation, not modern medicine, even the experts at WebMD (http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/sleep-position-and-sleep-quality) agree that
“Fatigue, sleep apnea, headaches, heartburn, and back pain are some of the complaints that can be aggravated by improper sleep posture and a bad night’s sleep
“Research suggests sleeping on the left side can relieve heartburn symptoms, while right-side sleeping makes them worse. Sleeping on the left side is also recommended during pregnancy to improve circulation to the heart — good for mom and baby.”
But of course, there’s no need to stay frozen in one position all night. You can turn for comfort but it’s worth making a habit of falling asleep on your left side.