You can get a better night’s sleep if you can get a grip on your heartburn at night. There are many simple things you can try to get a solid night of sleep. For most, avoiding your acid reflux triggers and implementing a few simple strategies is all that’s standing between you and a better night’s sleep.
In this article I will explain what causes heartburn at night and how to reduce your nighttime heartburn symptoms. There are some easy treatment options you can try to get a better night’s sleep and wake up the next day feeling refreshed.
What is heartburn?
Heartburn is the painful burning sensation you feel in your chest when stomach acid and possibly stomach contents refluxes back up into your esophagus or food pipe.
When you eat, food moves down your esophagus or food pipe and into your stomach where it mixes with stomach acid. This strong acid helps break down your food so digestion can occur.
You have a band of muscle on your lower esophagus called the lower esophageal sphincter. This sphincter muscle is supposed to stop food and acid refluxing back into your esophagus. For heartburn sufferers, your stomach acid refluxes back up through the valve and into your esophagus.
If you get frequent heartburn it can cause inflammation in the lining of the stomach and lining of the esophagus. This is what gives you the painful burning sensation rising from your stomach into your chest.
Symptoms of heartburn
The symptoms you have will often depend on whether you experience occasional or frequent heartburn and may include:
- chest pain
- painful burning sensation
- regurgitation of food or sour liquid
- bitter taste in your mouth
- chronic cough
- sore throat
- difficulty swallowing
- feeling like you have something stuck in your throat
Chronic heartburn and frequent acid reflux is a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) which is a serious condition. GERD symptoms are pretty much the same as for heartburn although frequency and severity are worse.
In severe cases, GERD can lead to further complications including Barrett’s Esophagus and occasionally esophageal cancer.
Risk factors of heartburn
Occasional heartburn symptoms at night is usually nothing to worry about. However, if your symptoms of heartburn gets worse or become more frequent, you should see your healthcare provider.
Common causes of heartburn
- eating big meals
- some medications
- cigarette smoke
Food and drinks that cause heartburn
- spicy foods
- fried or fatty foods
- chocolate and candy
- acidic foods such as citrus fruits and tomato based foods or drinks
- dairy foods such as milk and cheese
- soft drinks and sodas
Obesity and heartburn
Obese people are three times more likely to suffer from heartburn than people of normal weight. Researchers aren’t sure exactly why, but the likely cause is extra fat around your mid section puts pressure on your stomach. And this forces acid back up into your esophagus to cause heartburn.
Extra weight can also slow down digestion and this makes your stomach slower to empty. As a result, stomach acid builds up and refluxes.
Overeating and eating large meals, even if you are thin, can increase pressure on your stomach and lower esophageal sphincter and cause acid reflux.
Stress and heartburn
Stress is one of the most common causes of acid reflux. Heartburn itself can bring on anxiety when you worry about eating.
Also, worrying about sleep triggers insomnia and then lack of sleep increases stress. It’s a viscous cycle that continues until you do something to stop it.
Your body’s stress response has a direct impact on your digestive system:
- The muscles in your digestive system spasm and give you diarrhea or constipation.
- Stress makes you tense your muscles which puts pressure on your stomach and can cause bloating or gas.
- Stress increases stomach acid secretion, which can contribute to reflux and if left untreated may cause a peptic ulcer to form.
Pregnant women are prone to experience heartburn at night due to hormonal and physical changes.
Your lower esophageal sphincter muscle that is supposed to keep stomach acid in your stomach can relax due to hormonal changes. Also, your growing uterus puts added pressure on your stomach.
Smoking and heartburn
Smoking is a very common cause of heartburn. Nicotine from tobacco relaxes your lower esophageal sphincter. And reduced saliva production, which would normally help clean your esophagus, is hampered.
Some prescription medications and OTC medications may cause heartburn at night:
- the use of benzodiazepines (sleeping pills and sedatives)
- sea sickness tablets
- beta blockers and calcium channel blocker for hypertension and heart ailment
- dopamine-based drugs
- theophylline for lung diseases
- tricyclic depressants
Treatment options for better sleep
Fortunately, there are simple lifestyle changes you can make to prevent heartburn at night:
- elevate the head of your bed
- avoid alcohol and caffeine before sleeping
- eat 3 to 4 hours prior to sleeping and eat smaller meals
- avoid heartburn-inducing foods
- eat smaller meals
- engage in a weight loss regimen (OK, this one might not be so simple, but a better quality of life is worth it, right?)
- quit smoking (Again, not so easy, but important)
Let’s look at each of these lifestyle modifications in more detail…
Best sleeping position for heartburn at night
When you are upright, gravity helps you keep stomach acid where it belongs. When you lay down you lose this effect and it’s easier for stomach acid to escape via a loose lower esophageal sphincter muscle into your esophagus. This brings on the pain of heartburn which is the burning sensation you feel in your chest.
Elevating your upper body about 6 to 8 inches will help gravity keep your stomach contents put. You can do this by using blocks to elevate the head of your bed.
The best way to elevate your upper body is to use wedge pillows. Your wedge pillow can sit on top of your mattress, although some people slide them under their mattress.
Don’t stack up extra pillows as this can lead to neck or back pain, increase pressure on your stomach and make heartburn worse.
Sleeping on your left side is another way to use gravity to relieve pressure off your stomach. This is because your stomach is mostly on the right side of your body, so sleeping on your left side means there is less of your body mass pressing down on your stomach.
How food affects heartburn at night
Eating big meals puts a lot of pressure on your stomach which can force food and stomach acid out through your lower esophageal sphincter and give you acid reflux.
If you eat an occasional large meal, that’s not so bad. But if you’re eating big meals on a regular basis, this can cause problems.
Try eating 4 to 5 smaller meals daily, and avoid your heartburn trigger foods.
Also, the time of day you eat and drink is important. Don’t eat within 3 to 4 hours of laying down as your body needs time to digest your food before your lose the advantage of gravity to keep your food down.
Avoid alcohol if you have heartburn at night
Drinking alcohol might help you relax, but it also helps your lower esophageal sphincter to relax as well. And that means your stomach contents can reflux fairly easily.
Also, alcohol stimulates stomach acid production, and when it refluxes, the acid erodes the lining of the esophagus.
Alcohol makes your esophagus more susceptible to acid damage and can inflame the lining of your stomach.
And when in your stomach, alcohol can actually contribute to the development of peptic ulcers, and this will worsen GERD symptoms.
Medication for heartburn at night
If your heartburn persists after trying natural remedies, you may have to consider using OTC medications or prescription medications.
Some people take antacids to help neutralize stomach acid. Even if your stomach contents does reflux, you shouldn’t experience the burning sensation. Antacids are a short term remedy and usually should only be used for two weeks.
Alginates such as Gaviscon are another form of OTC medication usually given to individuals suffering from heartburn at night. This type of medication helps produce a glue-like coating that shields the stomach and esophagus linings when acid refluxes.
If prevention and OTC medications don’t help, health care providers may suggest prescription options:
- H2 blockers block histamine, a chemical in the body that helps make stomach acid.
- Proton pump inhibitors reduce production of stomach acid.
Proton pump inhibitors are often not the best medication for you, despite proton pump inhibitors being available as OTC medications. They are among the most commonly used drugs in the world, yet up to 70% of people taking PPIs don’t get any benefit.
You may experience some serious adverse effects if you use proton pump inhibitors for too long, so do your research before you take them.
Always follow your healthcare provider’s instructions regarding prescription medications. And follow the directions on the pack for OTC medications.
Heartburn at night FAQs
Why do I get heartburn at night?
When you are upright, gravity helps you keep stomach acid where it belongs. When you lay down you lose this effect and it’s easier for stomach acid to escape via a loose lower esophageal sphincter muscle into your esophagus. And this gives you a burning sensation in your chest which you know is heartburn.
How can I stop heartburn at night?
There are many things you can try to stop heartburn at night including:
- elevate the head of your bed
- practice good sleep habits
- avoid alcohol and caffeine before sleeping
- don’t eat for 3 to 4 hours prior to sleeping
- eat smaller meals
- avoid heartburn trigger foods foods
- engage in weight loss regimen if you need to
- quit smoking
Should I take TUMS before before bed to relieve heartburn?
Tums is an over the counter antacid medication that neutralizes your stomach acid to prevent acid reflux. There are many things you can try to prevent heartburn at night such as elevate your upper body, practice good sleep habits, eat smaller meals, don’t eat your trigger foods and avoid food and drinks for at least three hours before bed. If you have tried natural remedies and still experience heartburn at night, you may want to try taking an antacid such as Tums to prevent heartburn.
Heartburn at night
Finding a solution to heartburn at night may not be a quick fix, but there are many things you can try to stop your uncomfortable heartburn or GERD symptoms. It is important to treat your heartburn immediately before serious complications occur. Aside from prevention techniques, there are also natural remedies for you to try.
If your heartburn or GERD symptoms don’t go away, it is wise to consult with your healthcare provider to get on top of this serious condition quickly.
LEARN MORE: 33 Proven Ways To Get Rid Of Heartburn Naturally