How to Sleep Better with Acid Reflux

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Man in bed with heartburn

Acid reflux is something you may never think about until it happens to you. It’s estimated that about 7% of Americans have heartburn daily, and 14-20% get it from time to time. An upset stomach and burning throat are bad enough, but acid reflux tends to get worse at night. That means you’re not sleeping on top of everything else. Don’t despair - there are thing you can do to feel better so you can get better rest.

Defy Gravity

Acid reflux is caused when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) doesn’t close all the way or opens too often. Stomach acid can travel up into the esophagus, causing that burning discomfort in the chest. If it happens more than twice a week, it can be the symptom of acid reflux disease, or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). 

The reason acid reflux gets worse at night is because of gravity. Basically, when you lie down, the acid is no longer being kept in the stomach, and it can slosh back upwards. Food can move up, too, which puts more pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter. All this makes it more likely for acid to reflux up and cause heartburn and other issues.

To help your body keep things in their place, try lying on your left side. This positions the stomach more below the esophagus and keeps the lower esophageal sphincter from being pressured to open. Sleeping on your back with your upper body raised can also help.

Raise Up

Sleeping on your back has been found to be the best sleeping position for your health overall. If you worry about back pain, but need to reduce acid reflux, you can still do it by propping up your head and upper body. This works with gravity to keep things down, maybe even better than sleeping on your side, depending on the angle.

It can be a slight angle, as long as it’s enough to keep the esophagus raised. Just 10 degrees of elevation can make a difference. You can do this with pillows, but if you have other aches and pains an adjustable bed might be a more permanent solution. Unlike pillows, the bed stays in position, and can help with snoring, blood flow, body pain, and other issues.

Get Comfortable

Being uncomfortable in bed can irritate things more. Anything that adds weight to your stomach area should be avoided, at least while the acid reflux is a problem. This includes pajamas with a tighter waistband, weighted blankets, or sleeping partners who might rest on you. General comfort means you’re more likely to stay in a healthy position, too. Make sure your bed is supporting you so your body stays properly aligned. 

Don’t Eat So Close to Bed

It’s not always easy to get dinner ready on time, but if you have acid reflux it can be important to eat earlier. Undigested food in the stomach when you lie down also pushes back up, putting more pressure on the LES. Try to eat at least 3 hours before you lie down. If you have bad acid reflux, four hours is a safer bet.

When you do eat, avoid anything that might trigger the acid reaction. This includes spicy or fried foods, caffeine, and anything acidic (like citrus). 

Liquids in your stomach can have the same effect, although cause less pressure than solid foods. Gradually reduce how much you drink, until you stop at least half an hour before bed.

Find the Right Medicine

There are lots of over-the-counter medications that can help. If you prefer natural remedies, can try drinking tea made from soothing plants, like chamomile or peppermint. Read the information and talk to your doctor if there are any concerns about how any treatments might interact with other medicine or symptoms.

If you can’t get your acid reflux under control, check with your doctor – there are prescriptions and other things that may help you get a good night’s sleep.

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