Sleep and Heartburn: What's the Link?

Most people probably wouldn't rate getting enough sleep as the most important aspect of their life, but maybe they should. In addition to feeling rested and invigorated, studies have shown that a lack of sleep can increase your odds of becoming overweight, incurring an emotional disorder, and performing poorly in the workplace. Plus, a good night of sleep just feels good, whereas a bad night of sleep feels really, really bad.

If you suffer from heartburn, chances are you've had a lot of bad nights of sleep. In 2001 a Gallup survey on behalf of the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) revealed three alarming facts about heartburn sufferers:

  • 8 in 10 experience symptoms at night
  • 75 percent of nighttime heartburn sufferers can't fall asleep or are woken up in the middle of the night by heartburn
  • 40 percent of heartburn sufferers report that nighttime heartburn negatively affects their performance the following day at work

For some people, heartburn can be problematic. For people who experience nighttime heartburn, it can be a serious detriment to your ability to function on an everyday level. In light of these revelations, the National Heartburn Alliance offers tips for dealing with nighttime heartburn:

  • Time your meals. Heartburn is likely to occur when you are lying down, so eat meals two to three hours before hitting the sac. This way, you allow the acid levels to decrease, and the gastric content has time to empty into the intestinal tract.
  • Choose your meals. Make smart choices about which foods to snack on before bedtime. Avoid trigger foods, and try chewing gum-it can help produce saliva, which helps to neutralize stomach acid.
  • Elevate your head. Place blocks or a foam board under your pillow so that your head is raised four to six inches. Using gravity helps prevent stomach acid from creeping into the esophagus while lying down.
  • Left side only. Try sleeping on your left side. Some studies have shown that this helps by aiding digestion.
  • No nighttime meds. An anti-anxiety medicine used to treat insomnia will not knock you-and your heartburn-out cold. In fact, it can have the opposite effect. Medicines that act on the nervous system can lower the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) and make it easier for stomach juices to reflux into the esophagus. A study reported in 2005 showed a link between nighttime heartburn and benzodiazepines, like diazepam (Valium) and lorazepam (Antivan).
  • Understand your limit. If you're experiencing persistent or prolonged nighttime heartburn and are unresponsive to over-the-counter medications, you may be suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and should see your doctor immediately.