Nearly eight in 10 heartburn sufferers experience symptoms at night. But staying up all night to fend off heartburn isn't practical. Here are several tips to help you feel better and get a good night's rest -- free of heartburn.
What, How and When You Eat
- Eat 6 smaller meals each day instead of 3 larger ones. This will help keep the stomach from becoming too full, and help prevent excessive production of stomach acid.
- If one of your meals ends up being larger than the others, aim to eat that meal for lunch instead of supper.
- Don't eat too quickly. One way to help you slow down while eating is to put your fork or spoon down between bites.
- Avoid bending over soon after eating. Bending at the waist increases pressure on the stomach, and can increase heartburn symptoms.
- Avoid late-night snacking. Eating shortly before going to bed can increase your chances of experiencing heartburn because of increased stomach acid levels.
- Wait at least two to three hours after eating to go to bed. Lying down with a full stomach can cause stomach contents to press harder against the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), increasing the chances of refluxed food.
- Limit the amount of citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruits, that you eat.
- Avoid spicy foods, and cut back on chili and pepper. Spicy foods are known to cause heartburn symptoms in many GERD patients.
- Limit acidic foods, such as tomatoes and oranges, as well as choices that are based on these foods (such as ketchup, spaghetti sauces, etc.)
- Stick with lean meats. Fattier meats are heartburn triggers for many people.
- Limit fried foods, especially if they are greasy. Greasy foods, such as French fries, can trigger heartburn.
- Limit the amount of chocolate you eat. No matter how good it tastes, chocolate is a heartburn trigger for many GERD sufferers.
- Avoid alcohol. Alcohol increases the production of stomach acid, and relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
- Avoid caffeinated drinks, such as colas and coffee. Caffeine relaxes the LES, increasing the risk of acid reflux.
- Drink warm liquids. Drinking a glass of lukewarm water or herbal tea after a meal can dilute and flush out stomach acid.
- Drink plenty of water, which helps with digestion. Do not drink too much water at one time, however. This just increases 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.
Other Lifestyle Tips for Calming Nighttime Heartburn
- Sleep with your head and shoulders elevated. Lying flat allows stomach contents to press against the LES. Also, having the head higher than the stomach allows gravity to keep stomach contents where they belong.
- 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.
- Make sure your bed clothes are loose-fitting. Clothing that fits tightly around the abdomen -- such as tight belts and waistbands -- will squeeze the stomach, forcing food up against the LES. This can cause food to reflux into the esophagus.
- Stop smoking. Nicotine can weaken the LES. Smoking also stimulates the production of stomach acid.
- Take an antacid when heartburn hits. Antacids will work very quickly on heartburn you may be experiencing before you go to bed. If you are taking an antacid more than once or twice a week, you should see your doctor about another treatment plan.
- Lose weight. If you are overweight, the pressure of excess weight can increase the chance that stomach acid will back up into your esophagus.
- Relax! Stress may lead to an increase in stomach acid production. It is also known to lead to behaviors that can trigger heartburn, such as overeating.
- Get regular exercise, which can help with digestion. Just make sure to wait at least two hours after a meal before breaking a sweat. Exercising on a too-full stomach can trigger heartburn.
- Check your medications. Some medications can worsen heartburn symptoms, so talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.
American Journal of Gastroenterology, "Updated Guidelines for the diagnosis and Treatment of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease." The American College of Gastroenterology. Paraesophageal Hiatal Hernia21 May 2007.
"Nighttime Heartburn" The American Gastroenterological Association. Paraesophageal Hiatal Hernia21 May 2007.