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10 Steps to Lessening Nighttime Heartburn

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Updated April 18, 2008

Nearly eight in ten heartburn sufferers experience symptoms at night. If staying up all night isn't the option you are prepared to take for handling your nighttime heartburn, the following suggestions should help you.

1. Eat your big meal at lunch instead of at dinnertime.
This way your stomach won't still be working on that big meal when you go to bed. It is also beneficial to eat 4 or 5 smaller meals instead of 3 larger ones. This will also reduce the gastric pressure.

2. Eat at least two to three hours before lying down.
If you take naps, try sleeping in a chair. Lying down with a full stomach can cause stomach contents to press harder against the LES, increasing the chances of refluxed food.

3. Avoid foods that are known to lead to heartburn.
These include foods that can trigger your heartburn, either by increasing acid production and gastric pressure or by loosening the lower sphincter muscle. Also, avoid foods that can irritate the lining of the esophagus, such as spicy foods, coffee, citrus fruit and juices. Especially if you eat any of these foods at dinnertime will increase your chances of having nighttime heartburn. If you aren't sure what foods trigger your heartburn symptoms, try keeping a heartburn record for a week. You can also check out a chart for foods with little risk of causing heartburn.

4. Eliminate late-night snacking.
Have your last snack no later than two hours before bedtime.

5. Sleep with your head and shoulder on an 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 securely under the legs at the head of your bed. You can also use a wedge-shaped pillow to elevate your head.

6. Sleep on your left side.
Studies have shown that this position aids digestion and helps with the removal of stomach acid. Sleeping on the right side has been shown to worsen heartburn.

7. Make sure your bed clothes are loose-fitting.
Clothing that fits tightly around the abdomen will squeeze the stomach, forcing food up against the LES, and cause food to reflux into the esophagus. Clothing that can cause problems include tight-fitting belts and slenderizing undergarments.

8. Stop smoking.
Nicotine can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, which can lead to stomach contents entering the esophagus, with heartburn as a result. Smoking also stimulates the production of stomach acid. Find out the other reasons it's good to stop smoking if you suffer from heartburn.

9. Avoid alcohol.
Alcohol increases the production of stomach acid. Alcohol also relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), allowing stomach contents to reflux back up into the esophagus. If you still want to consume alcohol, find out how and when to consume alcohol when you suffer from heartburn.

10. Take an antacid when heartburn hits.
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. An 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, and you are able to go back to sleep. 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.

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 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.

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  6. 10 Steps to Lessening and Preventing Nighttime Heartburn - Preventing Nighttime Heartburn - Preventing Heartburn at Night

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