How To Prevent Heartburn at Night
Heartburn tends to creep up at night, wreaking havoc on our sleep and our throats. While heartburn can happen during daytime hours, too, most patients complain to their doctors that their symptoms are worse after they go to bed. There are several ways that you can prevent heartburn at night, including changing your eating habits and the setup of your bedroom.
What Causes Heartburn?
Heartburn is the result of stomach acid entering the esophagus and irritating it. Depending on your position, stomach acids can make their way to your throat, lungs, and even ears. Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) doctors and Pulmonologist (lung specialists) often see patients who complain of throat pain, ear pressure, or a chronic cough. If nothing else is found to be causing problems, acid reflux, also called GERD, is often to blame.
GERD stands for Gastroesophageal reflux disease. Sometimes GERD is the result of a valve, or sphincter, not working correctly at the bottom of the esophagus, other times there are more straightforward explanations.
When acids go up the esophagus, into the throat, they can easily continue into the ears, sinus, and lungs. This is incredibly irritating to these sensitive areas of the upper respiratory system. Chronic health conditions can erupt from prolonged exposure to stomach acids.
What Causes GERD?
Eating large meals late at night can often be attributed to heartburn and GERD symptoms. Spicy foods, caffeine, alcohol, citrus, and anti-inflammatory medications also can cause a surplus of acid in the stomach.
Also, when you eat late at night and then go to bed, undigested food may still be in your stomach. This can be a huge irritant and causation of GERD.
What Can You Do to Prevent Heartburn?
There are several steps you can take to prevent heartburn before asking your doctor for prescription medication. New studies on Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI’s) are finding a link to serious health risks. While PPI’s reduce the number of stomach acids being produced, there are benefits to having stomach acids for a healthy immune system. Additionally, the side effects of PPI’s have been linked to cardiac events from prolonged use. Be sure to always weigh the gain versus the risk with your doctor.
Don’t Eat Late at Night
Avoid eating up to four hours before going to bed. If you work unusual hours, try to make your biggest meal of the day lunch, so that you aren’t starving late at night when you get home. If you can get away with a smaller snack, rather than a big meal at night, this is a good option.
Don’t Drink Alcohol
Alcohol is a major irritant of the stomach lining. If you drink and then go to bed, not only is your stomach already irritated, but the position you are in can easily cause alcohol to re-enter the esophagus. This can cause incredible irritation to the esophagus, as well as the throat. Your lungs can also be irritated if stomach acids or liquids spill over the esophagus and enter the lungs. Many patients with chronic bronchitis actually have a GERD problem rather than a breathing problem.
Don’t Drink Caffeine
Caffeine is also a stomach irritant. Just like with alcohol, avoid drinking it at night. If you can completely cut it out of your diet, this is ideal.
Prop the Head of Your Bed Up
Raising the head of the bed can help keep stomach acids from traveling up the esophagus. While you may be tempted just to use a couple of extra pillows, this will not necessarily do the trick.
Raise the head of the bed by either putting something under the legs to literally raise the bed off the ground or by putting a couple of pillows under the mattress to lift the mattress off the frame.
If you share a bed with someone who is not keen on these ideas, you can purchase a pillow wedge. This triangle-shaped pillow will prop up only one side of the bed and serves a similar function as raising the bed itself.
Sleep on Your Left Side
Studies have shown that sleeping on your left side reduce heartburn symptoms. Those who sleep on their right sides tend to have chronic heartburn.
If all else fails, and you still want to avoid PPI’s, take an over the counter antacid. Look for one that is long lasting. Some brands are thicker than others, making them better at blocking acids. You may need to try a couple to find one that works best.
More on this topic: Sleep Analysis: Review Sleep ++ 2.0