Nighttime heartburn affects four out of five people who suffer regular
heartburn and acid reflux. The discomfort and bitter taste can make sleep
uncomfortable, even elusive.
While over-the-counter and prescription drugs can treat symptoms once you
have heartburn, "the cornerstone of treatment for any disease or disorder is
prevention," say Lawrence J. Cheskin, MD, and Brian E. Lacy, MD, PhD, in their
book Healing Heartburn.
Not everyone with GERD has heartburn, but the primary symptoms of GERD are heartburn, regurgitation, and nausea.
Heartburn usually is described as a burning pain in the middle of the chest. It may start high in the abdomen or may extend up the neck or back. Sometimes the pain may be sharp or pressure-like, rather than burning. Such pain can mimic heart pain (angina). Typically, heartburn related to GERD is seen more commonly after a meal. Other symptoms of GERD include:
Fortunately, sometimes all it takes to prevent nighttime heartburn is a few
lifestyle changes. WebMD turned to the heartburn experts to get their tips on
stopping nighttime heartburn before it hits -- so you can sleep well
12 Tips for Nighttime Heartburn Relief
1. Sleep on your left side.This position seems to help reduce
nighttime heartburn symptoms, says David A. Johnson, MD, internal medicine
division chief at Eastern Virginia School of Medicine, Norfolk, Va. To remember
which side to sleep on, Johnson offers this memory trick: Right is wrong.
2. Lose weight, even a little. Heartburn often just gets worse as you
gain weight, but losing as little as two and a half pounds can help reduce
heartburn symptoms, Johnson says.
3. Sleep with your upper body elevated. When you lay flat in bed,
your throat and stomach are basically at the same level, making it easy for
stomach acids to flow up your esophagus, causing heartburn. You can elevate
your body in two ways:
Put the head of your bed on 4- to 6-inch blocks.
Sleep on a wedge-shaped pillow that's at least 6 to 10 inches thick on one
end. Don't substitute regular pillows; they just raise your head, and not your
entire upper body.
4. Wear loose-fitting clothes. Tight clothes, especially near your
waist, can put pressure on your stomach, leading to heartburn symptoms.
5. Avoid foods that trigger your heartburn. Foods that trigger
heartburn differ from person to person. Common foods and drinks that can cause
heartburn and interrupt sleep include alcohol; caffeinated drinks like colas,
coffee, and tea; chocolate and cocoa; peppermint; garlic; onions; milk; fatty,
spicy, greasy, or fried foods; and acidic foods like citrus or tomato products.
Keep a food diary to help you track which foods may trigger your heartburn.
6. Steer clear of late-night meals or big meals. Avoid eating meals
two to three hours before bedtime to reduce stomach acid and allow the stomach
to partially empty its contents before you sleep, suggests the American
Gastroenterological Association. Because large meals put pressure on your
stomach, try eating a smaller meal in the evening to help prevent nighttime
7. Relax when you eat. Feeling stressed when you eat in a rush can
cause the stomach to produce more stomach acids. Relax after your meal as well
-- but don't lay down. Some pros recommend trying relaxation techniques like
deep breathing or meditation.