But what does it take, first and foremost, for a morning bowel movement to be considered “healthy”? Do we have to poop each morning, or is it okay to have our first number two, say… closer to 2:00 p.m.?
Before we dive into these questions and more, let’s revisit what exactly constitutes a healthy poop.
What does a healthy poop look like?
According to Peyton Berookim, MD, a board-certified gastroenterologist at the Gastroenterology Institute of Southern California, healthy poops are typically brown, soft, sausage-like, and solid. A healthy bowel movement happens smoothly without straining and provides a sense of complete evacuation. (All of which make for a poop that feels good to pass—and leaves you feeling satisfied as a result.)
How often should you poop?
When it comes to how often you should poop, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer; we all have different digestive systems, after all. However, one poop a day is considered a general rule of thumb for healthy bowel movement frequency.
You might poop more than once a day or less than once a day (e.g. every other day), and that can be normal, too—so long as your bowel movement is soft, unstrained, and complete. "It becomes abnormal if you're not going frequently enough, and then you're straining and passing hard stools," says Dr. Berookim.
When you should see a doctor
While the occasional bout of gastrointestinal upset is normal, cases of constant diarrhea, constipation, heartburn, and bloating should be explored by a doctor.
Stool discoloration may also be a sign that it’s time to get a GI doctor’s advice. Unusual poop color isn’t always a cause for concern (green poop is usually caused by something you ate), but some colors (like black and bright red) can indicate serious gastrointestinal issues.
How your digestive system works when you sleep
As we snooze, our digestive systems are still working hard to process the food we ate during the previous day and move waste throughout our intestines. Our gut operates the same way it does when we’re awake, just much slower.
“The gut never rests, even when we're asleep,” says gastroenterologist, gut health expert, and founder of Well Sunday, Sarah Robbins, MD. “It acts more slowly, but it doesn't fully rest, ever. It's always contracting and moving.”
How your digestive system works when you wake up
When we wake up, our digestive systems begin to wake up, too. After working slowly all throughout the night, our digestive system is suddenly kicked into high gear as we begin preparing for the day.
“When we get up in the morning, typically we do things that stimulate the bowel,” says Dr. Robbins. “We start to move, we eat and drink, and that increases the contractions of the gut.” As our colons contract, feces gets moved throughout our intestines, usually resulting in an early-morning poop.
This movement is also due in part to our breakfasts, explains Dr. Robbins. Eating triggers the gastrocolic reflex, which controls the motility of our lower GI tract. “When our stomach is full and distended, it actually sends a signal to the colon to move and contract and empty things out,” says Dr. Robbins. “It's almost like telling the lower portion of the bowel to make room because there’s more food coming from the top down.”
Benefits of pooping in the morning
Technically, says Dr. Berookim, your bowel movement doesn't *have* to take place in the morning. On the contrary, you can poop any time of day. It's just that people tend to be more comfortable handling their business at home, and morning habits like drinking coffee and moving around the house often stimulate a bowel movement.
While it’s totally normal to have your first bowel movement later on in the day, there are some benefits of pooping in the morning. Evacuating your bowels early can reduce your chances of having to poop later on in the day; plus, it reduces gas and bloating, setting you up for a more comfortable day.
Looking to boost your morning bowel regularity? Ahead are nine digestion tips that GI doctors say can help you achieve more satisfying morning poos.
9 good digestive habits to promote pooping in the morning
1. Give yourself enough time in the morning to poop
“Make sure that when you get up in the morning, you give yourself time to go to the bathroom,” says Dr. Robbins. “People [sometimes] need a little bit of time, they get up to have a coffee or something like that, and then they have the opportunity to have a bowel motion.”
Giving your body ample time to move things along can benefit you later in the day—and reinforce a strong mind-gut connection. “When we're rushing out the door, and we don't allow ourselves that time, then we end up holding it and go throughout the course of the day, and then, you can start to lose awareness of the signals that your body is sending you,” adds Dr. Robbins.
2. Drink water regularly
Proper hydration is super important when it comes to regulating your morning bowel movements. "If patients are dehydrated, they're going to be constipated," Dr. Berookim says. Without water, stools can indeed become bulky and dry. And fiber requires water in order to be properly digested, so if you're eating a lot of fiber without drinking a corresponding amount of liquid, you're likely to back up.
Ideally, he recommends that you drink water before or after rather than during meals and ultimately, you should be drinking it regularly throughout the day rather than chugging it all at once to make up for a deficit. You also need to account for the amount of exercise you do, the amount of heat to which you're exposed, and the amount of coffee or alcohol you consume, and add more water to your daily diet accordingly.
3. Eat a diet rich in fiber, probiotics, and healthy fat
What you eat makes a significant difference in your stools, too. That aforementioned fiber, for example, is a critical component of having good poops. It adds bulk to stools to prevent diarrhea and simultaneously keeps things running smoothly through the digestive system to prevent constipation.
To promote good gastrointestinal health, you should aim for 25 to 28 grams per day, but you can also just check your poops to gauge whether or not you're getting the right amount. Foods high in fiber include black beans, lentils, flaxseed, barley, and Brussels sprouts, among others. And front-loading your day with a high-fiber breakfast filled with oats, berries, chia, or whole grains can make it easy to meet your fiber goals.
In addition to fiber, you'll want to make sure you're consuming adequate amounts of healthy fats because they also add bulk to stools and support the absorption of vitamin A, which helps maintain the mucosal lining in the colon and prevent inflammation.
Taking good care of your microbiome health is advisable, too. Eating fermented foods such as kimchi, yogurt, and tempeh can help. Dr. Berookim further advises minimizing caffeine and alcohol intake because both are diuretics. "Diuretics cause increasing urination, which can lead to dehydration, which can lead to constipation," he says. "So, moderation is key when it comes to caffeine and alcohol."
On the flip side, coffee can serve as a laxative, so it can lead to your stools being too loose as well. Stimulants like caffeine stimulate the vagus nerve, which in turn can cause the poop sweats or trigger existing digestive issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). And if there's cream in the coffee—and you're lactose intolerant but don't yet know it—that can cause morning diarrhea, too.
4. Avoid eating too close to bedtime
According to Dr. Robbins, a solid morning poop routine begins with the previous night’s activities. Eating too close to bedtime (within two to three hours or so) can lead to heartburn, acid reflux, and gastrointestinal upset. This happens because our GI systems aren’t getting enough time to process the food we’ve eaten, says Dr. Robbins.
“Normally it takes two to three hours for your stomach to completely empty after a meal,” says Dr. Robbins, “so if you lie down, gravity is not working in your favor. You've got all that food in your stomach, so it's more likely to reflux.”
This disruption of the gastrointestinal system’s process can make establishing morning regularity more difficult. Avoid eating large meals right before bed and give your body at least three hours to fully digest what you’ve eaten.
5. Get moving
There's no escaping the importance of physical activity when it comes to healthy bodily functioning, it seems. It’s well-established that regular exercise is great for your heart and mind, but the benefits extend to your gastrointestinal health, too. (In other words, working out does make you poop.)
Dr. Berookim says that in order to get things moving in your bowels, you need to get yourself moving first. He suggests, at the very least, walking 30 minutes per day. "Just being fit will help in having a nice, routine bowel movement in the morning," he says.
6. Invest in a toilet squat stool
If you're unfamiliar, a toilet squat stool (such as the internet-famous Squatty Potty) is a stool that you put your feet on when you go to the bathroom so that your knees are lifted above your waist. "By doing so, you're increasing the rectal canal angle, and it relaxes a key pelvic muscle that makes bowel movements easier," Dr. Berookim says.
7. Consult with a doctor about your medications
Sometimes, medications can impede healthy bowel movements, says Dr. Berookim. "You may need to talk to your doctors and have them review your medications and see if they can put you on something else to give symptomatic relief," he says.
8. Consider hormonal issues
Hormonal imbalances can also cause issues in the poop department. Some are unavoidable, such as the regular weekly hormonal shifts in your cycle1—to help constipation before and during your period, Dr. Berookim recommends drinking more water, upping your water intake, and taking a supplement such as psyllium. But others are treatable. For example, says Dr. Berookim, you could have a thyroid issue causing you digestive distress2, in which case you would need to treat the condition in order to improve your poo situation.
So if you can't seem to regulate your poops, you may want to check in with an endocrinologist as well as a gastroenterologist.
9. Accept a little help
For those who still need a little help with morning bowel movements, Dr. Berookin recommends supplementation.
"For patients who are having trouble having a bowel movement in the morning, I recommend psyllium such as Metamucil, a laxative such as Colace, or an osmotic laxative (which attracts water to your colon) such as MiraLAX prior to going to bed," he says. "These are mild and help with morning bowel movements without causing urgency in the middle of the night."
Why do I have to poop twice in the morning? Is it normal to poop 3 times in the morning?
Having to poop multiple times in one morning can be annoying. Taking several trips to the loo doesn’t just interrupt your day; cleaning your butt repeatedly with toilet paper (or worse, Wet Wipes) can result in anal fissures or small tears on the lining of your anus.
If you find yourself having to poop multiple times in the morning, it’s likely because you didn’t fully evacuate your bowels the first time. Constipation can make it difficult to pass your bowel movement in one go, resulting in several trips to the toilet. Gut irritation from stimulants like coffee or dairy can also cause you to evacuate several times in one morning.
According to Dr. Robbins, another potential cause of multiple morning bathroom trips is irritable bowel syndrome.“Often with irritable bowel, people will find they have several or multiple bowel motions the first thing in the morning when they get up,” says Dr. Robbins. “They need to create a routine where they're able to clear things out so that they're not having bowel motions all throughout the course of the day or having diarrhea when they’re out and about.”
What is a simple trick to empty your bowels every morning?
If you need a little help getting things moving in the morning, so to speak, try drinking water, partaking in light exercise, or eating a fibrous breakfast. These activities stimulate the gut and in turn, can prompt a morning bowel movement.
Is it healthy to poop in the morning?
According to Dr. Robbins, “it’s actually quite common and normal for people to have a bowel motion first thing in the morning.” Of course, be sure to pay attention to the shape, color, and stool texture of your morning poop, though; these shed a better light on your GI health than the time of your bowel movement.
How do I stop pooping the first thing in the morning?
A lengthy morning bowel movement might cut into your day, but Dr. Robbins insists that listening to your body—and answering nature’s call—is the best course of action.
“When we potty train kids, we teach them to learn the signals that their body is sending them when they feel like they have to go to the bathroom,” says Dr. Robbins, “but as adults, when we get those signals, sometimes we're busy, or at work, or we're in a meeting, and we ignore them. If you feel the need to go to the bathroom, ideally, you should be able to do that.”
All this being said, you can halt morning poop urgency a bit by avoiding known gut stimulants like caffeine and spicy foods first thing in the morning.
- Judkins, Taylor C et al. “Stool frequency and form and gastrointestinal symptoms differ by day of the menstrual cycle in healthy adult women taking oral contraceptives: a prospective observational study.” BMC women’s health vol. 20,1 136. 29 Jun. 2020, doi:10.1186/s12905-020-01000-x
- Knezevic, Jovana et al. “Thyroid-Gut-Axis: How Does the Microbiota Influence Thyroid Function?.” Nutrients vol. 12,6 1769. 12 Jun. 2020, doi:10.3390/nu12061769
- Malone JC, Thavamani A. Physiology, Gastrocolic Reflex. [Updated 2023 May 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK549888/
- Nehlig, Astrid. “Effects of Coffee on the Gastro-Intestinal Tract: A Narrative Review and Literature Update.” Nutrients vol. 14,2 399. 17 Jan. 2022, doi:10.3390/nu14020399
Loading More Posts...