Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD often causes symptoms that are bothersome, no matter what time of day, but at night heartburn and acid reflux can make it feel difficult — if not impossible — to sleep. To help combat this issue that affects 20% of Americans, we’ve rounded up four ways to sleep better at night with acid reflux, and things you can do to make yourself more comfortable.
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Change the Position You Sleep In
Acid reflux occurs when your stomach contents flow back into your esophagus. It’s normal to have some acid reflux from time to time, but when it occurs frequently, more than twice per week, it’s known as GERD.
While GERD symptoms can arise at any time, nighttime often makes symptoms worse. When you lie down, gravity no longer helps keep your stomach acid from coming up. You also produce less saliva when you’re sleeping, which neutralizes stomach acid, and swallow less, which helps push the acid back down.
Studies show that the best position to sleep in if you have GERD is on your left side as it decreases the likelihood of your esophagus being exposed to the acid in your stomach. Sleeping on your back and sleeping on your right side can increase the likelihood of acid reflux.
If you’re not used to sleeping on your left side, try switching to a side sleeper pillow to see if that helps. We like The Good Life Say Goodnite Side Sleeper Pillow because it’s designed with a shoulder cut out and made of ventilated memory foam for breathability and comfort. It’s also infused with activated charcoal from sustainable bamboo to inhibit dust mites, which can help keep allergies at bay.
Sleep at an Incline
If you’ve tried changing positions only to find you wake up on the side you were trying to avoid, sleeping on an incline might provide the relief you need. Experts recommend raising the head of your bed 6 to 10 inches for best results. If you don’t have an adjustable mattress, we recommend using The Good Life Adjustable Base Pro. Besides elevating your head, the base allows you to elevate your legs, which can help ease any back and hip pain. As a nice added bonus, the bed comes with a built-in dual-zone massager for added relaxation.
Keeping your head elevated will prevent your stomach acid from making its way up into your esophagus and throat, which is what causes people with GERD to cough and choke in their sleep. If you can sleep in a different position, research published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology shows that sleeping on your left side with your head elevated is best.
Try Skipping Your Nightcap
Researchers are still trying to determine the connection between GERD and alcohol, however, multiple studies have shown that alcohol, especially heavy drinking, can make symptoms worse. Alcohol has been shown to reduce lower esophageal sphincter pressure, which can increase the likelihood of reflux.
Since alcohol causes your esophageal sphincter to relax, avoid drinking a few hours before lying down to prevent nighttime acid reflux. Drinking in moderation (no more than one alcoholic beverage per day), can also help manage symptoms.
Avoid Heartburn-Inducing Foods
If you have GERD, one of the first things your doctor might recommend to help manage symptoms is changing your diet. Spicy food, acidic food and foods that have a high fat or salt content cause your lower esophageal sphincter to relax, which delays the digestive process, allowing food to sit in your stomach longer.
Because these foods sit in your stomach longer, you’ll want to avoid them three to four hours before bed. You should also avoid large meals at night since digestion creates more stomach acid and lying down decreases your lower esophageal sphincter’s ability to keep that acid from refluxing.
Changing the way you do things can be overwhelming, so if you feel yourself getting stressed at the prospect of adjusting your lifestyle take a deep breath and start slow. Pick one small step, like buying a pillow that helps you sleep better on your left side, and try that for a week and see if it helps. Listen to your body, you can always add on more changes or dial back your restrictions if you need to.