Article written and researched by Dr. Albert Stezin (MBBS, Ph.D – clinician and neuroscientist) to ensure maximum factual accuracy and unique content.
Trying to get to sleep when you have a stomach ache or abdominal pain can be difficult because lying down can sometimes make the pain worse.
So how can you get to sleep when you have stomach pain?
The most effective way to sleep better with stomach pain is to consult with a doctor to devise the right treatment plan – sleeping on your left side, Epsom salt baths, massages, heat pads; taking painkillers, home remedies, and changing your diet may be appropriate solutions.
The rest of this article expands upon these points to give you 6 actionable ways to sleep better when you have stomach pain.
Although this article was written by a qualified and practicing medical doctor, you should always consult with your own doctor to get the best treatment plan for you.
6 Ways to Sleep Better with Stomach Pain
Here are 6 ways to help you sleep better when you have stomach pain:
1: Treat the Underlying Cause of the Stomach Pain
The most effective way to stop stomach pain at night is to treat the underlying cause – you may need a doctor to help you diagnose the issue since there can be many different reasons for your stomach pain.
A painful tummy usually results from inflammatory and neoplastic conditions of your gastrointestinal tract – which includes all the digestive system organs.
Common causes include gastritis, stomach ulcers, acid reflux disease, gall stones, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, dysmenorrhea, food poisoning, pancreatitis, hepatitis, and certain cancers.
Abdominal pain can be a symptom of urinary or reproductive tract disorders, such as kidney stones (renal calculi), infection, or malignancy (tumors).
Therefore, your stomach pain may be the result of an acute or chronic condition that may clear up on its own or may need medical intervention.
Solution: Consult With Your Doctor
The best cure for abdominal pain is to treat the underlying cause, but this is easier said than done as the source is not always straightforward and varies between people.
So consulting with your doctor is the best course of action here – especially if symptoms are persistent.
Medical management is the preferred first-line treatment for most conditions, but appendicitis, cancers, and renal stones may require surgical intervention.
Furthermore, few of these conditions are self-limiting, and some need timely intervention, but detailed discussions on individual disorders and their management are beyond the scope of this article.
The rest of this piece presents a simplified guide to help you identify potential disorders which may require immediate medical attention.
Medical Emergencies – When to Seek Immediate Professional Intervention
If you have recurring abdominal pain with any of the following symptoms, make an immediate appointment with your doctor or visit your local ER department:
- Recent abdominal trauma.
- Inability to swallow.
- Recurrent vomiting.
- Passing dark-colored urine.
- Painful urination.
- Passing red, dark, or tarry stools.
- Inability to pass gas.
- Swelling in your abdomen.
- Yellow discoloration of skin and eyes.
- Sudden and unexplained weight loss.
- Difficulty breathing.
Gastrointestinal Disorders Can be Very Dangerous if Left Untreated
These red flags may suggest a potentially dangerous underlying cause of your abdominal pain, so please don’t ignore them – even if medication keeps the pain at bay.
Your doctor may prescribe medicines and choose to send you home, or they may admit you to the hospital for a complete evaluation, depending on the symptoms and the severity of your pain.
Please ignore any quackery you encounter in chatrooms, social media platforms, and on Dr. Google, no matter how convincing the advice may sound.
Gastrointestinal disorders are potentially dangerous if left untreated, even for few hours.
If in doubt, visit your doctor or the ER department for a preliminary check-up.
2: Use the Correct Medicines to Relieve Abdominal Pain
When used sensibly, analgesics – and other over-the-counter medicines – can relieve stomach pain and help you sleep better.
Anti-flatulence medicine can be very effective for pain associated with gastritis, such as simethicone and digestive enzymes.
For painful heartburn caused by gastritis and acid reflux disease, antacids, such as Gaviscon, Mylanta, and Milk of Magnesia can offer effective relief, and so can acid reducers like Pantoprazole and Ranitidine.
Stool softeners, laxatives, and enemas are most effective for stomach pain caused by constipation – while cramping pain associated with diarrhea benefits from medicines such as Loperamide or Bismuth subsalicylate.
Effective treatments for spasmodic pain – often caused by irritable bowel syndrome – are antispasmodic medicines such as dicyclomine.
Abdominal pain from painful periods (dysmenorrhea) tends to respond well to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and mefenamic acid.
If these medicines don’t work or work well, then you may have a more severe underlying problem, and I recommend you get evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible.
Please do not use over-the-counter (OTC) analgesics indiscriminately, despite their effectiveness and availability, especially non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen.
Long-term use of NSAIDs can lead to mucosal irritation of the stomach, peptic ulcers, pain, discomfort, bleeding, and even perforation (tearing) of the gastrointestinal tract.
The other pain relievers discussed above can also trigger potential side effects in some people that you need to be mindful of.
For these reasons, always discuss new or unfamiliar medications with your health care provider or a pharmacist before starting a course of treatment.
3: Use Home Remedies to Ease Mild Pain
Home remedies may provide sufficient pain relief for mild to moderate abdominal pain and treat your upset stomach without the potential side effects of conventional medicine.
However, I advise caution when using natural remedies as the health claims presented on many websites are often unproven and not backed up by science.
I have put together a list of carefully curated natural remedies that effectively treat abdominal pain in some people and enhance sleep quality.
I have only selected remedies for which I have had a positive experience in my personal or professional life and scientifically validated by research groups worldwide:
You can use the ginger spice in many different ways, and it’s a known quick fix for digestive problems such as abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.
Ginger gets its analgesic property from phytochemicals or chemical compounds called gingerols and shogaols, which speed up stomach emptying and the gastrointestinal tract, thus reducing belly pain.
One way to take ginger is to make chews if you can tolerate or enjoy its strong taste and smell, or you can add the spice to hot water to make ginger tea.
Ginger is also available as capsules, tinctures, oils, and dried ginger powder.
Some herbalists recommend ginger ale, but most of these commercial drinks don’t contain enough ginger for effective pain relief, plus the sugar content and carbonation in ginger ale don’t help.
I recommend the use of ginger chews, ginger-infused water, and tea for abdominal pain.
Besides pain relief, ginger can also help some patients with insomnia and other sleep disturbances, so the dual effects of this spice make it a promising natural remedy.
Peppermint is an aromatic herb that contains several essential oils such as menthol, menthone, and limonene, and people around the world enjoy its minty peppermint spearmint flavors consumed as hot teas.
Peppermint also has several health-related benefits.
The menthol in peppermint helps relax the digestive system and ease pain, and by modulating gastrointestinal contractions, menthol can also decrease painful gut spasms.
Tests have shown that peppermint is effective for controlling symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and gastrointestinal cancers.
Moreover, a recent study demonstrated how peppermint extract capsules could be as effective as NSAIDS in reducing the intensity and duration of painful menstrual cramps.
The potential downside of this herb is that it can relax a circular band of muscle called the esophageal sphincter, causing the stomach content to leak back into the esophagus and worsen gastroesophageal reflux disease.
The sleep-promoting properties of peppermint have been in the spotlight for a few years now, and according to one animal study, menthol given as peppermint oil increased the sleep duration in lab rats.
However, a follow-up study refuted these findings, and currently, there are only unconfirmed claims that suggest herbs can improve sleep in humans.
Even so, due to peppermint’s muscle-relaxing properties, many people with sleeping difficulties continue to use it and swear by its effectiveness as a natural sleep aid.
Popular ways to use peppermint are to drink it as a tea or take it as an extract, though some herbalists recommend applying peppermint essential oil directly onto the abdomen to relieve pain.
Chamomile tea has a distinct flavor and several health-related properties.
It contains phytochemicals such as bisabolol, azulene, chamazulene, and matricin, which have anti-inflammatory properties that help to relax the gastrointestinal muscles.
Chamomile can effectively treat abdominal pain, motion sickness, nausea, vomiting, gastritis, and indigestion.
Regular use of chamomile tea is especially useful in abating nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy.
The mild sedative effect of chamomile can also help ease insomnia, and drinking strong chamomile tea with 2-3 tea bags promotes better sleep and eases pain.
Chamomile tea bags are easy to source, and many brands contain combinations of chamomile, ginger, and peppermint to provide maximal pain- and sleep-related benefits.
Herbal experts have long regarded fennel as a natural remedy for abdominal ailments such as stomach pain, diarrhea, and constipation.
Recent studies have demonstrated how fennel capsules and teas relieve menstrual cramps, irritable bowel syndrome, promote digestive health, and aid gut recovery after abdominal surgery.
The preferred way to take fennel is to drink it as tea, using 2g of dried fennel seeds to one cup of boiling hot water and left to stand for around 5 minutes.
Fennel also has a sleep-promoting effect due to its high magnesium content, so consider drinking fennel as your bedtime drink if you have trouble sleeping.
Low FODMAP Diet
FODMAPs (fermentable oligo, di, mono-saccharides, and polyols) are present naturally or as additives in foods, and the most common ones include fructose (found in fruits and veggies), fructans (found in vegetables and grains), lactose (found in dairy), galactans (found in legumes), and polyols (found in artificial sweeteners).
Your gut can’t absorb FODMAPs properly, which leads to a fermentation process in the large intestine that draws in water and produces carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methane gas.
These gases expand the bowel and cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating and pain in disorders like irritable bowel syndrome.
A low FODMAP diet means avoiding short-chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols from your diet that belong to the FODMAP list of foods.
Note that FODMAPS are everywhere and not necessarily unhealthy foods, so avoiding them in your regular diet is close to impossible and unnecessary in most cases.
Following a FODMAP diet is proven to be beneficial only in people with chronic abdominal disorders like inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), irritable bowel syndrome, and functional gastrointestinal disorders.
I recommend this type of diet for those suffering from chronic inflammatory conditions of the gut, but not as a prophylactic measure against gastrointestinal problems in otherwise healthy people.
BRAT, BRATT, and BRATTY Diet
These diets are short-term solutions (<48 hours) during and after stomach flu, diarrhea, and painful cramps.
The diet is low in protein, fat, and fiber, making it easier to digest, but it’s not suitable for extended periods due to nutrient and calorie deficiency; a typical BRAT diet involves eating bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.
Dietitians have modified this eating plan to the BRATT (BRAT + Decaffeinated Tea) and BRATTY (BRATT + Yogurt) diets to improve the health benefits.
The modified diets are gentler on your stomach, produce firmer stools, reduce nausea and vomiting, and won’t stress or irritate your digestive system.
But these diets have recently been criticized due to the lack of scientific proof of their actual effectiveness.
Moreover, the American Academy of Paediatrics does not recommend these types of diet for children, and I think most people – kids and adults – should avoid them.
But many people do exploit this diet and swear by the results, hence the mention here, so if you intend to give it a try, make sure you talk things over with your physician or dietician first.
4: Try Epsom Salt Baths, Massage, and Heat Pads
Other remedies for stomach pain include Epsom salt baths, massage, and heating pads:
Epsom Salt Baths
A warm bath with Epsom salts can soothe pain caused by menstrual cramps, indigestion, and inflammatory or irritable bowel disease; the perceived benefits coming from the release of magnesium on the dissolution of the salt.
For best results, dissolve 500 grams of Epsom salts in a tub with warm water and soak for 10-15 minutes.
Massage Your Stomach
Simple physical measures such as massaging your stomach can relieve abdominal pain, cramping, and bloating, so let’s look at how best to approach this:
Lay on your back, place your hands just above your right hip bone, gently press in with your fingers, and rub in a clockwise motion reaching up to your ribs, keeping the applied pressure mild to moderately intense only.
Repeat this procedure on your other side and ease the pressure slightly if you feel any pain.
Lastly, massage the center of your abdomen (centered around the belly button).
Continue with this massage for 10 minutes, three times per day.
A heating pad or a hot-water bottle can also help ease stomach cramps, but you shouldn’t use it while sleeping as there’s always a risk of getting burned.
5: Sleep On Your Back or Side
Although no scientific studies have conclusively demonstrated any particular sleep posture to be superior in gut-related disorders, the best sleeping positions for stomach pain are back and side sleeping – avoid sleeping on your front and the fetal position.
Scientists have known about the link between sleep and digestion for decades, yet the exact mechanism behind this remains a mystery.
Some theories suggest that the enteric nervous system – which connects the gut and the brain – may indirectly influence sleep.
Experts know that bowel disturbances such as abdominal pain can trigger sleep disturbances and that sleeplessness can trigger the inflammation cascade and worsen pain and other gastrointestinal symptoms.
Sleep on Your Left Side to Aleviate Indigestion
Abdominal pain associated with indigestion is most commonly due to bloating and nerve irritation caused by the build-up of excessive gas in the intestine.
Sleeping on your left side is the best position to alleviate indigestion because gravity redistributes the food, regulates bowel movement, and decreases gas in the intestines, which reduces bloat and abdominal pain.
The relief comes about as food waste gets to travel more freely, so there’s less pain, pressure, and bloating, or none at all.
Sleep On Your Back on an Incline to Aleviate Indegestion
Laying in the supine (flat on your back) position is one of the best ways to sleep if you have a condition that causes musculoskeletal pain, as this position keeps the spine well-aligned and distributes your body weight more evenly.
However, the supine position is not ideal if you suffer from gastrointestinal conditions such as gastritis, acid reflux, or severe nausea since it facilitates acid entry into the upper gastrointestinal tract.
When you suffer from abdominal pain caused by severe acid reflux, it’s better to sleep on your back with your upper body elevated instead, as gravity prevents the acid in the stomach from leaking into your food pipe or esophagus.
The slightly raised position also relieves the breathlessness caused by a distended abdomen – due to fat, flatus, feces, or fluids – exerting pressure on the diaphragm.
You can use pillows or an adjustable bed to raise your upper body on to an incline.
Avoid Prone (Face Down) Sleeping Positions
Avoid the prone position, aka stomach sleeping, when you have abdominal pain since it tends to put your body weight on the site that is already in pain, and it also pulls the spine out of alignment, which may cause you musculoskeletal pain.
Avoid Sleeping in the Fetal Position
Side sleeping with your knees tucked in creates the comforting fetal position.
But the problem with the fetal position is that it can cause your intestines to bunch up, adversely affecting intestinal motility and precipitate or worsen constipation.
If this has become your normal sleep position – and you cannot change it – at least be mindful of your knees and try not to bring them up too close to your chest.
Sleep On Your Left Side When You Have Stomach Pain and Diarrhea
The best way to sleep when you have stomach pain and diarrhea is to control pain with the appropriate medications and sip chamomile tea to help settle your stomach – sleeping on your left side may help to decrease intestinal gas.
6: Use Sleep Props to Avoid Tossing and Turning
Turning over during the night can make you feel sick and worsen stomach pain – using adjustable beds, bed risers, and pillows can help to keep you in the same position all night and reduce discomfort.
Adjustable Bed Frames/Recliner Beds
Recliner beds have hinges and motorized parts that provide several different sleeping positions based on your preference and medical needs, plus they make it easier for you to get in and out of bed when you have restricted mobility.
The moving segments of adjustable beds help you sleep comfortably in an optimal sleep posture, which offers pain relief and enhances overall sleep quality.
These beds support people with various health conditions where it’s vital to maintain a specific sleeping posture for prolonged periods, e.g., heartburn, leg edema, sleep apnea, and spinal disc herniation.
You can build your own adjustable bed (click here for instructions) to save money if you are a DIY enthusiast.
But the easiest option is to buy a compatible adjustable frame and mattress.
A triangular, wedge-shaped pillow is a much cheaper alternative to a recliner bed that you place at the head of your bed to assist a supportive sleep posture.
The height and inclination vary based on the wedge angle but find one that provides an elevation of at least 30–45 degrees.
The trick is to ensure that your head, neck, and upper torso remain well supported, so try them out if you can before you buy one.
Wedge pillows are also ideal for people who spend a lot of time in bed, reading, resting, or watching TV.
Heavy-duty 2–3-inch bed risers are another affordable alternative to recliners that fit like shoes onto the legs of your bed to elevate it and reduce pain, acid reflux, and provide breathing relief.
An even cheaper option is to use bricks or wood blocks to achieve the same effect, but there’s always a risk of makeshift bed risers becoming unstable and collapsing if you don’t fit them properly.
Bed pillows are the most economical way to support your posture while sleeping, but not all pillows are equal.
You can use one or multiple pillows and cushions to prop yourself up and attain the ideal elevation, but they can slip out of position, so they can’t guarantee fixed support to your upper torso.
If you’re a side sleeper, keep a pillow between your legs to help align the spine, lower back, and hip into a comfortable position.
This method takes the strain off your back and tummy, and if you are slightly on the heavy side, invest in a full-body pillow for maximal comfort.
Guide to Stomach Pain and Sleep
Here’s a short guide that answers some common questions regarding stomach pain and sleep.
What Causes Stomach Pain?
Abdominal discomfort refers to the pain felt between your chest and groin and is more commonly known as stomach or bellyache.
Typical causes of stomach pain are distention of an organ, inflammation, abnormal contractions, or loss of blood supply to any organ in the region.
A wide range of underlying conditions can cause stomach pain, as mentioned under the ‘Treat the Underlying Cause of Abdominal Pain’ heading.
Abdominal pain is not usually a standalone symptom and is often linked to other gastrointestinal symptoms such as:
- Abdominal heaviness or discomfort.
- Chest discomfort.
This clinical picture helps clinicians identify the underlying causes of abdominal pains.
How Do Sleep and Stomach Pain Affect Each Other?
Stomach pain can result in less sleep, which can make the pain worse due to increased sensitivity.
A good night’s sleep can influence gut health more than most people realize, and experts now know that sleep-deprived states cause the body to release pro-inflammatory hormones that slow the gut metabolism.
These inflammatory mediators can also cause pain and bloating, and because of the low metabolic activity, digestive processes slow down and worsen incidences of bloating, constipation, and abdominal pain.
These symptoms disrupt sleep and sleep quantity and thus create a vicious cycle.
Even when sleeplessness is not directly responsible for digestive problems, getting adequate sleep can calm your gut and help speed up recovery.
How Can I Avoid Stomach Pain at Night?
To prevent stomach pain at night avoid heavy meals – have a light snack 1-2 hours before bedtime – avoid alcohol, smoking, and coffee – focus on good sleep hygiene and relaxation.
There are a variety of simple lifestyle modifications that can prevent you from developing stomach pain at night, including:
Avoid heavy meals, fried and oily foods, and gas-producing foods such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and beans from the dinner menu.
Other gas-producing bloat foods to avoid close to bedtime are citrus fruits, tomatoes, spicy food, coffee, fizzy drinks, gum, and hard candies.
It’s better to eat a balanced diet instead, and fiber-rich foods like leafy greens, figs, and non-citrus fruits will prevent constipation.
Try not to eat after 1-2 hours before bedtime.
Instead of eating three large meals a day, try three smaller ones and have light snacks between them, eating your food slowly and chewing thoroughly without talking to prevent gulping excessive air into your gastrointestinal system.
Exercise for at 30 minutes or more most days – start gently with a walk and work up from there.
Avoid Alcohol and Smoking
Alcohol consumption and smoking can inflame the lining of your stomach and causes severe acidity, so if you consume alcohol frequently, try to limit your intake to 14 units each week, with no more than three units per day.
Aim for at least two alcohol-free days each week for the sake of your health.
Unfortunately, there is no safe limit for smoking, so cut it out altogether if you can, and if not, at least try to cut it down to the least you can tolerate each day.
Change the Timing of Medicines
If you need to take aspirin or anti-inflammatory drugs, do so with an antacid or anti-acid coverage at least 3-4 hours before you go to bed, preferably with food.
Never miss doses of prescription medications for your abdominal condition.
Use Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques such as yoga, behavioral therapy, and biofeedback are helpful for pain associated with functional disorders and chronic inflammatory conditions.
Conclusion: Diagnose the Cause
In order to treat your stomach pain properly, you should consult with your doctor to find out the root cause so that you can devise a proper treatment plan.
Remember that stomach pain can be caused by serious conditions, so it’s always better to get checked out – especially if the pain is accompanied by other issues.
Sources and References
1. Natesan S, Lee J, Volkamer H, Thoureen T. “Evidence-Based Medicine Approach to Abdominal Pain” – retrieved on August 10th, 2021.
2. Shian B, Larson ST. “Abdominal Wall Pain: Clinical Evaluation, Differential Diagnosis, and Treatment.” – retrieved on 12th August 2021.
3. Altobelli E, Del Negro V, Angeletti PM, Latella G. “Low-FODMAP Diet Improves Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms: A Meta-Analysis.” – retrieved on 13th August 2021.
4. Chung-Soo K, Jin-Yi H, Seunghwan K, Jin Tae H, Ki-Wan Oh. “Herbs for the Treatment of Insomnia.” – retrieved on 29th July 2021.
5. Bjørklund G, Aaseth J, Doşa MD, Pivina L, Dadar M, Pen JJ, Chirumbolo S. “Does diet play a role in reducing nociception related to inflammation and chronic pain?” – retrieved on 14th August 2021.
No part of this article or website offers medical advice – always consult with a qualified medical professional for the best guidance.
Image Attribution and Licencing
Main image: ‘Woman With Stomachache on Bed at Home’ by nensuria (Getty Images Pro) – used with permission under the terms of Canva’s One Design Use License Agreement.
Dan is the founder and head content creator at Bedroom Style Reviews.
He has been working as a professional online product reviewer since 2015 and was inspired to start this website when he ended up sleeping on a memory foam mattress that was too soft and gave him backache.
Through in-depth research and analysis, Dan’s goal with this website is to help others avoid such pitfalls by creating the best online resource for helping you find your ideal mattress, bedding, and bedroom furniture.
Dan is a qualified NVQ Level 2 Fitness Instructor with 6 years’ experience helping clients improve their health through diet, exercise, and proper sleep hygiene.
He also holds several college and university-level qualifications in health sciences, psychology, mathematics, art, and digital media creation – which helps him to publish well researched and informative product reviews as well as articles on sleep, health, wellbeing, and home decor.
Dan also has direct personal experience with insomnia, anxiety, misophonia (hypersensitivity to sounds), and pain from both acute and long-standing sporting injuries – he enjoys writing insightful articles around these subjects to help fellow sufferers of such conditions.
Learn more about Dan here.