How to Avoid Nighttime Heartburn

If you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or feeling refreshed in the morning, you're not alone. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, about 40 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders and 20 million more have occasional bouts of disrupted sleep.

Although the reasons keeping so many adults tossing and turning cover a wide spectrum of medical conditions from restless legs syndrome to anxiety and depression, studies show heartburn, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), sabotages sleep for a significant number of people. According to a poll by the National Sleep Foundation, GERD is the third most common gastrointestinal disorder in the U.S. and one of the leading causes of disturbed sleep among people ages 45 to 64.

If you suffer from chronic heartburn, talk to you doctor about the most effective treatment for you. Quitting smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, losing weight, and avoiding certain foods such as citrus fruits, chocolate, caffeinated drinks, and spicy foods can help alleviate the symptoms of GERD. In addition to these lifestyle changes, your doctor will also be able to determine the best sleeping position for your digestive problem.

What to Avoid at Bedtime

Heartburn occurs when stomach acid backs up into your esophagus, the tube that carries food down to the stomach. When this happens, the stomach acid irritates the esophagus, causing a burning feeling in your chest. When you lie down, especially on a full stomach, it can cause the stomach contents to press harder against the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), increasing the risk for refluxed food. To ensure that you get a good night's sleep, the Mayo Clinic recommends that you refrain from eating for at least three hours before lying down or heading to bed. These other tips should help:

  • Eat smaller meals.
  • Elevate the head of your bed. Place wood or cement blocks under the feet of your bed so that the head end is raised by six to nine inches. If you can't elevate your bed, try inserting a wedge between your mattress and box spring to elevate your body from the waist up. Wedges are available at drugstores and medical supply stores. Using pillows to prop up your head is not effective.
  • Sleep on your left side. Some studies are showing that sleeping on your left side can help prevent nighttime heartburn. Lying face down when you fall asleep may also help with digestion.




Mayo Clinic
Adult health
Sleep tips: 7 steps to better sleep

National Sleep Foundation
GERD and Sleep