12 Things to Do if You Have Heartburn at Night

Heartburn during the nighttime can exacerbate it. Here's how to avoid it.

Drinking plenty of water can help ease heartburn symptoms.
Drinking plenty of water can help ease heartburn symptoms. Nawarit Rittiyotee/EyeEm/Getty Images

Nighttime heartburn can deprive you of sleep — and make you feel worse overall. While trying to sleep sitting up my help, it isn't a great option. However, there are some thing you can do that might prevent heartburn before it begins. Get ready to rest tonight.

Eat, Sit, Then Lay Down

You can increase the likelihood of reflux when you lie down with a full stomach, because it can cause stomach contents to press harder against the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).

If you feel like resting soon after eating, try relaxing in a chair or recliner.

Watch Meal Size

Whenever you eat a large meal, there is the risk of your stomach becoming too full, which will put more pressure on the LES. There can also be an excessive production of stomach acid. It is better to eat 5 or 6 smaller meals instead of 3 larger ones. Also, if one of your meals is typically larger than the others, try to have that meal for lunch instead of dinner. This can also help prevent having an over-full stomach at night.

Say No to Late-Night Snacks

Many of us may have gotten into the habit of eating a snack shortly before bedtime. If your stomach is working on digesting food when you go to bed, there is a higher risk of having a heartburn episode. Schedule your snacks for earlier in the day, such as between breakfast and lunch, or between lunch and supper.

Stay Away From Trigger Foods

Many people can trace their heartburn back to specific foods that they have eaten.

If you suffer from heartburn at night, it may have started with something that you ate during the day. There are a couple ways that eating certain food can lead to heartburn. One is when a food relaxes the LES, so the food comes back upward. Another is when a food causes the stomach to produce too much acid, which refluxes into the esophagus.

Examples of foods most likely to cause heartburn are:

  • Fried (greasy) foods
  • High fat meats
  • Butter and margarine
  • Mayonnaise
  • Creamy sauces
  • Salad dressings
  • Whole-milk dairy products
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint
  • Caffeinated beverages (e.g. soft drinks, coffee, tea, cocoa)
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Alcohol
  • Spicy foods
  • Black pepper
  • Citrus fruit and juices (e.g. orange, grapefruit)
  • Tomato juice

Instead, fill your diet with foods with little risk of causing heartburn. Most heartburn sufferers can eat these foods with little or no problems. You may find that some of the foods on the list will cause heartburn. You may also find that there are foods not on this list that are safe for you to eat. To figure out your problem foods, keep a heartburn record for a week or two to track when your heartburn hits.

Sleep at incline

Lying down flat presses the stomach's contents against the LES. With the head higher than the stomach, gravity helps reduce this pressure, and keeps stomach contents where they belong — in the stomach. You can elevate your head in a couple of ways.

You can place bricks, blocks or anything that's sturdy and fits securely under your bed's legs at its head. You can also use a wedge-shaped pillow to elevate your head.

Choose Loose Clothes

Clothing that fits tightly around the abdomen can squeeze the stomach, forcing food up against the LES and into the esophagus. Wearing tight fitting clothing anytime during the day is not a good idea. Clothing that can cause problems include tight-fitting belts and slenderizing undergarments.

Avoid Alcohol

As mentioned above, alcohol should be avoided. The reasons include:

  • Alcohol increases the production of stomach acid.
  • Alcohol relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing stomach contents to reflux back up into the esophagus.
  • When the LES relaxes, it causes swallowing contractions to become erratic.
  • Alcohol makes the esophagus more sensitive to stomach acid.

If you still want the occasional drink, you can check out these tips in this article on alcohol and heartburn.

Don't Smoke

If you smoke, you should consider stopping. Smoking can increase the risk of heartburn by:

  • slowing down the production of saliva;
  • stimulating stomach acid production;
  • weakening and relaxing the LES; and,
  • injuring the esophagus, making it more susceptible to further damage from acid reflux.

Drink Water

To help with digestion, drink plenty of water — just not too much at once. This can increase the stomach contents and can actually worsen heartburn symptoms. It is better to drink smaller amounts throughout the day rather than large amounts less often.

Try an Antacid

Antacids will work very quickly on heartburn you may be experiencing before you go to bed. It can also be used for those heartburn episodes that wake you up during the night if the heartburn comes back. Unfortunately, this is very possible. A H2 blocker will work for a longer period of time, usually up to 12 hours, but they take an hour or so to begin working. Another option is to combine the two. The antacid will provide the quick relief you need, and will likely last until the H2 blocker begins to work. Before trying these, talk to your doctor about your best options.

Talk to Your Doctor

Heartburn treatment isn't something you should DIY. If you continue to experience frequent heartburn symptoms at night, see your health care provider. He or she will be able to diagnose whether you are suffering from just occasional heartburn, or something more serious, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, an peptic ulcer, or a hiatal hernia. You will be able to discuss with your health care provider different treatment options, including medications such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs).

Sources:

Anil Minocha, M.D., Christine Adamec. How To Stop Heartburn - Simple Ways to Heal Heartburn and Acid Reflux. John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2001.

Carol Ann Rinzler, Ken DeVault, MD. Heartburn & Reflux for Dummies. Wiley Publishing, Inc, 2004

"Updated Guidelines for the diagnosis and Treatment of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease." The American College of Gastroenterology

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