I am not sure how the topic of gut health got so popular (dare I say trendy) over the last few years, but as a girl who has struggled with her digestion for what feels like a decade, I could not be happier about the education, tips, and hacks that have become so easily available online. But with any trend comes misinformation, and sorting through what can actually help improve your gut health and what is just gimmicky can be tricky when you’re not a professional. I, for one, have fallen victim to far too many drinks, supplements, and tricks that have claimed to support digestion and just haven’t yielded those results for me. Over the last year or so, I made it my mission to understand what I could do to improve my gut health and more specifically, how I could start every day with optimal digestion.
Here’s what I’ve learned: Instead of focusing on what we could do every morning for optimal digestion, we should be focusing on what we could do before bed to have a bowel movement come morning and optimize digestion for the following day. The secret to optimal gut health is your nighttime routine, so we’re breaking down seven things you can do tonight for better digestion tomorrow.
1. Take a magnesium supplement
75 percent of Americans are deficient in magnesium even with a well-balanced diet filled with magnesium-rich foods like leafy greens, nuts and seeds, whole grains, avocado, and certain types of fish, and I was one of them before incorporating a magnesium supplement into my nightly routine. Magnesium citrate specifically can do wonders for your gut health as the citrate helps to pull water into the digestive tract and cause the muscles to contract. This ultimately allows your body to properly digest your food and eliminate waste, which can be especially beneficial for those of us who struggle with constipation and irregular bowel movements.
2. Stretch before bed
The last thing you might want to do when you are experiencing any sort of uncomfortable feeling in your stomach is move your body, but trust me, incorporating some stretching before hopping into bed to rest can really ease any digestive discomfort you might be experiencing. They don’t have to be complicated either—you might even be familiar with a few such as Happy Baby and Cobra. Certain stretches, poses, and twists can help create space in your belly to ease cramps, relieve bloating, encourage digestion, and ultimately, get things moving.
3. Drink peppermint tea
Peppermint tea has a permanent spot on my grocery list because I go through boxes of it at a record speed. I drink it almost nightly after dinner solely for the science-backed benefits of improving digestion—whether I have a too-full-feeling belly after dinner or not. According to Healthline, peppermint tea (and oil) have been shown to relax muscles in your digestive system and improve various symptoms such as gas, bloating, and indigestion. So the next time your tummy could use a little TLC, reach for a cup of peppermint tea before bed to help ease the pain and increase your digestion.
4. Stop eating (about!) three hours before bed
As a late-night snacker, this is tough for me, but this tip can help your digestion tenfold. According to the Cleveland Clinic, when you stop eating about three hours before bed, you allow enough time for your body to optimally digest the last food you ate so it won’t disrupt your sleep. Luckily, this isn’t a hard and fast rule; no one is saying you can’t eat for exactly three hours before bed, and if you’re hungry at 9 p.m., then of course eat (listen to your body first and foremost!). If you still want to keep your sleep and digestion in mind but need a little snack, reach for something with some protein and healthy fats, like an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter or veggies and hummus, before hitting the hay.
5. Take a gentle walk after dinner
One study found that walking stimulates the stomach and intestines, helping food move through the digestive system more rapidly. This can be especially helpful after eating or any time you are experiencing bloating or discomfort. So next time you finish up your girl dinner, head outside (or onto your walking pad!) to get some steps in. You don’t have to walk fast or for a long period of time to reap the benefits, all you have to do is get your body moving gently to stimulate your digestive system. You might just find that this is the most helpful and relaxing way to ease your tummy before bedtime. Bonus points if you spend this time catching up with a friend or your partner!
6. Sleep on your left side
I know this sounds a little woo-woo, but it’s true that the position you sleep in affects how your body eliminates waste. Left-side sleeping has expert- and science-backed health benefits, such as aiding in digestion. According to Healthline, when you sleep on your left side at night, gravity can help take waste on a trip through the ascending colon, then into the transverse colon, and finally dump it into the descending colon, which in turn can help encourage a trip to the bathroom in the morning. You better believe I’m going to be trying this hack out tonight.
7. Have a de-stress routine
Stress affects just about everything, and of course, one of those things is your gut health. According to Harvard Medical School, stress can trigger and worsen gastrointestinal pain and other symptoms, and vice versa. So what does this mean? Pain, bloating, and other discomfort can all be a result of stress, so adopting a de-stress routine that works for you at the end of the night can help these symptoms exponentially. Maybe this looks like putting your phone down an hour or two before bed and reading instead or choosing to watch a feel-good nostalgic show with a cup of peppermint tea instead of listening to a scary true crime podcast. Whatever this routine looks like for you, incorporating feel-good habits before bed can help relieve stress and therefore aid in the health of your gut.