Here’s why nighttime heartburn is common—and what you can do about it.
You’re tossing. You’re turning. And your chest is achy and burning. The haunt of nighttime heartburn strikes again, robbing you of the solid night’s rest you need. Ugh, why did I eat those nachos right before bed?!
If you’ve ever experienced nighttime heartburn, you know that it can be quite a nightmare. Not only are you suffering through those uncomfortable acid reflux symptoms, but you’re also losing precious shut-eye, which can leave you groggy and tired the next day.
Why Is Heartburn More Common at Night?
Acid reflux occurs when the digestive acid that’s naturally in your stomach backs up into the esophagus—a condition that can often be caused by heartburn-triggering food and eating habits. Heartburn is the most common symptom of acid reflux.
“Heartburn is more common at night because when you’re lying down you don’t have gravity to pull the acid down and keep it in your stomach, which is why many people experience nighttime symptoms,” says Roshini Raj, MD, a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Health and co-founder of healthy living brand Tula.
Tips to Avoid Nighttime Heartburn
Experiencing heartburn at night can affect how well you sleep. “Sleep deprivation is associated with a whole host of health issues, so you really want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to ensure a good night’s sleep,” says Dr. Raj. Here are Dr. Raj’s tips on how to deal with nighttime heartburn.
1. Avoid eating a large meal before bed. “Try to have your largest meal more toward the middle of the day, or have smaller meals frequently throughout the day,” says Dr. Raj.
2. Nix the nightcap. Limit alcohol consumption before bedtime. Drinking before bed not only triggers acid reflux, but late-night drinking can affect the quality of your sleep, too.
3. Rest upright to digest. After eating, aim to stay upright at least three hours before bed to help keep the acid down, says Dr. Raj.
4. Sleep on an incline. “Raise the head of your bed so you’re sleeping at a bit of an incline as opposed to just flat where it’s much easier for acid to come up,” says Dr. Raj.
If lifestyle and diet changes don’t help your heartburn symptoms, you can treat heartburn with medication. “We often give medications, either over-the-counter or prescription medicines, to really help with both daytime and nighttime heartburn,” says Dr. Raj.
Even though nighttime heartburn is fairly common, it’s not something you should ignore. People who experience heartburn or other acid reflux symptoms at least two to three times a week may have a chronic condition known as GERD. If you get acid reflux enough, it can cause bothersome symptoms, like nausea, bad breath, and trouble swallowing, or injury to the esophagus. Learn more about GERD here.
Contrary to popular belief, feeling heartburn regularly isn’t just a normal part of life. “If you’re experiencing nighttime heartburn frequently, you should speak to your doctor,” says Dr. Raj.
Dr. Raj is a gastroenterologist and associate professor of medicine at NYU School of Medicine, and an attending physician at NYU Langone Medical Center.
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00:00:02,567 --> 00:00:05,739
Heartburn is more common at night
because when you're laying down,
00:00:05,739 --> 00:00:09,458
you don't have gravity helping to pull
the acid down and keep it in your stomach,
00:00:09,458 --> 00:00:12,156
which is why many people
experience nighttime symptoms.
00:00:12,156 --> 00:00:18,499
00:00:18,499 --> 00:00:22,220
We all have acid in our stomach, and
this is what helps us digest our food, but
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the acid is supposed to
stay in the stomach.
00:00:24,354 --> 00:00:28,084
And our stomach is well equipped to
tolerate that acidic environment.
00:00:28,084 --> 00:00:32,098
Our esophagus on the other hand is
not meant to be exposed to acid.
00:00:32,098 --> 00:00:35,943
When someone feels heartburn, what's
usually happening is acid is coming up
00:00:35,943 --> 00:00:40,037
from the stomach flowing backwards, up
into the esophagus where it should not be.
00:00:40,037 --> 00:00:43,810
And it's causing irritation or
burning to the lining of esophagus.
00:00:43,810 --> 00:00:48,180
So they will feel a burning in there chest
area, right being their breast bone.
00:00:48,180 --> 00:00:50,230
Acid reflux at night
can affect your sleep.
00:00:50,230 --> 00:00:53,538
And we know that sleep deprivation
is associated with a whole host of
00:00:53,538 --> 00:00:54,358
00:00:54,358 --> 00:00:57,734
So you really wanna make sure you're
doing everything you can to ensure
00:00:57,734 --> 00:00:58,644
good night sleep.
00:00:58,644 --> 00:01:00,128
For nighttime heartburn,
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the most important things you can do is
avoid a very large meal right before bed.
00:01:04,463 --> 00:01:07,360
Try to have your largest meal more
towards the middle of the day, or
00:01:07,360 --> 00:01:09,967
having just smaller meals
frequently throughout the day.
00:01:09,967 --> 00:01:14,840
Avoiding alcohol at night, staying
upright at least three hours before you
00:01:14,840 --> 00:01:17,056
actually lay down and go to sleep.
00:01:17,056 --> 00:01:20,704
And also raising the head of your bed so
you're sleeping at a bit of an incline
00:01:20,704 --> 00:01:23,898
as opposed to just flat where it's
much easier for acid to come up.
00:01:23,898 --> 00:01:26,882
If lifestyle and
diet changes don't make a difference,
00:01:26,882 --> 00:01:29,618
we often give medications
either over the counter or
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prescription medicines to really help with
both daytime and nighttime heartburn.
00:01:34,050 --> 00:01:37,133
Even though nighttime heartburn
is a fairly common symptom,
00:01:37,133 --> 00:01:41,046
it's not something you should ignore
because it's often a sign that there's
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acid really bathing yourself, I guess and
potentially causing damage or
00:01:44,722 --> 00:01:47,532
inflammation that could have
long term consequences.
00:01:47,532 --> 00:01:49,865
If you're experiencing night
time heartburn frequently,
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you should speak to your doctor.
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You may need medication, you may need
endoscopy as well to see what's happening.
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Patient education: Acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease) in adults (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate. (Accessed on July 5, 2018 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/acid-reflux-gastroesophageal-reflux-disease-in-adults-beyond-the-basics)