How to Sleep Better with Acid Reflux
Last Updated on September 18, 2022
Feeling the burn? If you experience frequent heartburn, a sour or bitter taste in your mouth or any of the other common acid reflux symptoms as you lay down to sleep, you’re not alone. It’s normal for acid reflux to flare up right when you’re ready to hit the sheets.
Fortunately, a few tweaks to the way you’re sleeping and your before-bed routine can help reduce and relieve symptoms. Keep reading as we explore what you need to know and how to sleep better with acid reflux.
What is Acid Reflux and GERD
Acid reflux, GERD and heartburn are often used interchangeably, but it’s important to understand the differences.
Acid reflux refers to when stomach acid backs up into your esophagus, lungs, throat or sinuses—places where it definitely doesn’t belong. Acid reflux can cause many different symptoms, one of which is heartburn, a burning sensation in the upper abdomen or chest. An estimated 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once per month. Other symptoms include a sour or bitter taste in the mouth or back of the throat, sore throat, cough, chest pressure and difficulty swallowing.
You might be diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) when acid reflux becomes more frequent, such as more than two times per week. GERD is a chronic condition that affects 15-30% of the US population.
What Causes Acid Reflux and GERD?
To understand what causes acid reflux, we first need to understand how digestion works.
Normally after you eat something, the food moves down into your stomach via your throat and esophagus. A specific muscle, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), controls the opening between your esophagus and your stomach during this process.
Reflux occurs if your LES is too weak or relaxed to close properly after this happens, allowing stomach acid to back up into your esophagus. Stomach acid is normal and is there to break down food and protect you from dangerous bacteria—but it belongs in your stomach and nowhere else. That burning sensation you feel is the acid hitting the lower part of your esophagus, which isn’t built to handle such a strong acid. Ouch!
So, what exactly causes this to happen? Certain conditions, including obesity and connective tissue disorders, can increase your risk. But simple lifestyle choices can also aggravate acid reflux. These include:
- Eating certain trigger foods
- Drinking certain trigger beverages
- Eating large meals
- Lying down shortly after eating a meal
If you’ve ever eaten a large bedtime snack right before bed, you might know the feeling. Many people experience the strongest acid reflux symptoms at night, and we’ll get into the reasons why next.
How Do Acid Reflux and GERD Affect Sleep?
So, why is acid reflux more likely to show up at night, right as you’re drifting off to sleep? You can blame gravity for this one.
When you’re sitting upright or standing, gravity helps move food efficiently through your esophagus. But when you’re lying down, you lose that helpful force. You also swallow less when you’re sleeping, further reducing the normal functions.
Heartburn pain caused by acid reflux and GERD may also wake you up in the middle of the night. Stomach acid can travel as far as your throat, causing you to wake up in a coughing fit. The acid can also result in a sickly tasting regurgitation in your mouth.
Finally, battling acid reflux at night can even lead to more serious problems if your stomach acid pools around your vocal cords and sinuses. This is known as laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR), and symptoms include hoarseness, noisy breathing, and a chronic cough. GERD also increases your risk of sleep apnea, which is when you repeatedly stop and start breathing during the night.
How Do Acid Reflux and GERD Affect Sleep?
Sleep can be elusive when you’re dealing with acid reflux. Churning stomach acids don’t exactly feel relaxing! Fortunately, there are certain sleeping positions and other tips that can help reduce your symptoms.
Let’s start with your positioning. The best sleeping position for acid reflux symptoms is on your left side, with your head slightly elevated. Since the esophagus opens into your stomach at an angle on the right side of the body, sleeping on your left side helps everything move in the correct direction. And with your head elevated, gravity can continue working in your favor.
Additional tips include…
Watch Your Daytime Routine
Your daily habits can make a big impact on acid reflux symptoms! To start, focus on your big-picture health: watch your weight, as excess pounds can put pressure on your stomach; and quit smoking, as this can increase the production of stomach acid and weaken the LES muscle.
Another helpful tip is to eat smaller meals throughout the day, instead of a few large meals. Eat slowly, as this can help with digestion.
Track Your Food & Drink Choices
As you’re planning out your smaller meals, take note of what you’re eating, too. Certain foods can act as triggers, including coffee, carbonated drinks, spicy foods, fried or fatty foods, and acidic foods like citrus fruits and tomatoes. Studies have also shown that white wine and beer may cause acid reflux.
Since triggers can vary from person to person, you may want to keep a food diary to keep track of which foods affect you the most.
Refine Your Bedtime Routine
Ready for bed? Not so fast! To avoid acid reflux at night, avoid lying down for at least 2 to 3 hours after you eat. This will ensure everything is moving along as it should and gives your stomach time to digest the contents.
Ditch the nightcap, too; instead of using alcohol to unwind, try a hot cup of tea or another pre-bed routine.
Another way to reduce acid reflux symptoms at night is to avoid pressure on your stomach. Maintaining a healthy weight and eating smaller meals will help with this, as will wearing loose-fitting pajamas. Opt for relaxed waistbands and airy, breathable fabrics.
Find the Right Sleeping Position
Now you’re ready for bed! As you set up your ideal sleeping environment, this is where an adjustable bed frame will come in handy. Experts recommend elevating your head and torso about 6-8 inches to alleviate and avoid acid reflux symptoms. (Bonus: sleeping with your head elevated has a ton of other benefits, too!)
Piling pillows behind your head can make the condition worse, as it places extra pressure on your esophagus. Using an adjustable bed frame is really the best option. Wedge pillows can also work.
GhostBed’s Picks for Acid Reflux
Ready to shop? The GhostBed Adjustable Base will help you sleep better with acid reflux, thanks to the infinite elevation options. Customize your bed to the perfect position and you’ll be on your way to better health and sleep. Add a GhostBed mattress, shredded memory foam pillow, and luxury bedding for your best sleep yet.
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