Prone to Heartburn at Night? Here Are 4 Ways to Avoid It

Here’s why nighttime heartburn is common—and what you can do about it.

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You’re tossing. You’re turning. Your chest is achy and burning. The haunt of nighttime heartburn strikes again, robbing you of the solid night of sleep you need. 

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. This 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. The lining of the stomach can handle this strong acid, but the esophagus cannot. This can lead to a number of uncomfortable symptoms, including heartburn.

Heartburn can happen at any time of day, but it may be more common at night because of gravity. When you lie down in bed, it's easier for stomach acid to move up into the esophagus. When you're standing, gravity helps keep that stomach acid down.

What are tips to avoid heartburn when you're sleeping?

Experiencing heartburn at night can affect how well you sleep. Not only is acid reflex uncomfortable and even painful, but the sleep loss could also affect your health. Sleep deprivation is linked to several other health issues, so it's important to take this seriously.

Tips to avoid nighttime heartburn include:

1. Avoid eating a large meal before bed

Larger meals increase pressure on the valve that separates the stomach and esophagus. Try to have your largest meal toward the middle of the day instead of at night. Alternatively, opt for small, frequent meals throughout the day.

2. Nix the nightcap

Limit alcohol consumption before bedtime. For starters, drinking before bed may trigger acid reflux. To make it worse, 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. For this reason, it may help to eat dinner a little earlier — not right before bed.

4. Sleep on an incline

You can take advantage of gravity to reduce the risk of heartburn at night. It may help to raise the head of your bed so you're sleeping at an incline. Another option is to buy a wedge pillow. These are special pillows that help you sleep at an incline.

When should you see a doctor?

If lifestyle and diet changes don’t help your heartburn symptoms, you can treat heartburn with medication. There are over-the-counter and prescription options to help manage daytime and nighttime heartburn.

Contrary to popular belief, feeling heartburn regularly isn’t just a normal part of life. 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: gastroesophageal reflux disease.

You should take GERD seriously because it can cause complications to your health. You may experience nausea, bad breath, trouble swallowing, injury to the esophagus, or even esophageal cancer. Learn more about GERD here.