Nearly eight in ten heartburn sufferers experience symptoms at night. But staying up all night to fend off heartburn isn't very practical. Here's what you can do before you go to bed to help you feel better and get a good night's rest -- free of heartburn.
Eat at least two to three hours before lying down
This way your stomach won't still be working on that big meal when you go to bed. Lying down with a full stomach can cause stomach contents to press harder against the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the valve that keeps food in the stomach. If foods reflux up through the LES, heartburn is the result.
Avoid foods that are known to lead to heartburn
These include foods that can trigger your heartburn, such as spicy foods, coffee, citrus fruit and juices. If you eat any of these foods at dinnertime, it 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.
Sleep with your head and shoulder on an incline
Lying flat presses the stomach's contents against the LES. But if the head is 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 and shoulders.
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.
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.
Take an antacid when heartburn hits
Antacids will work very quickly on heartburn you may be experiencing before you go to bed. It also can be used for those heartburn episodes that wake you up during the night if the heartburn comes back. An H2 blocker will work for a longer period of time, usually up to 12 hours. Another option is to combine the two. You should discuss this with your physician to determine what is the best treatment for you.
What to do if the nighttime heartburn continues
If you continue to experience frequent heartburn symptoms at night, see your health care provider. You will be able to discuss with your physician the different treatment options.
"Nighttime Heartburn." American Gastroenterological Association brochure. Accessed: Accessed on Oct, 22, 2006.
Effect of Esomeprazole on Nighttime Heartburn and Sleep Quality in Patients with GERD: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Volume 100 Page 1914 - September 2005. The American Journal of Gastroenterology. Accessed on 22 Oct 2006 (http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1572-0241.2005.00285.x?cookieSet=1)