7 Ways to Avoid Nighttime Heartburn

Nearly 75 percent of patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) experience symptoms at night. Fortunately, there are things you can do to find relief. GERD is a chronic digestive disease that occurs when stomach acid or bile flows back into your esophagus, irritating the lining. The result is acid reflux and heartburn. 

Some symptoms of GERD include:

  • A burning sensation in your chest (heartburn), occasionally spreading to the throat, along with a sour taste in your mouth
  • Chest pain
  • Dry cough
  • Regurgitation of food or sour liquid (acid reflux)
  • A sensation of a lump in the throat

Finding Nighttime Relief

People with nighttime GERD usually experience severe pain. However, there are some simple lifestyle changes you can make that may help you reduce or even prevent nighttime heartburn.

  • Elevate the head of your bed. Raise the angle of your bed by using 4- to 6-inch blocks at the head of the bed and use a wedge-support to elevate the top half of your body. Sleeping in a tilted position like this can help keep the acid in the stomach at night. You'll find wedges at drugstores and medical supply stores. But don't try elevating your head with extra pillows, which can compress your stomach, making heartburn worse.
  • Sleep on your left side. Try sleeping on your left side instead of your right side. The stomach is higher than the esophagus when a person sleeps on the right side, which can put pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), increasing the chance for fluid back up.
  • Remain upright after eating. Consider taking a walk after eating or at least avoid lying down after a meal. Wait at least two to three hours after eating before going to bed and refrain from late-night snacking.
  • Avoid tight-fitting bedclothes. Clothes that are snug around your waist put pressure on your stomach and the lower esophageal sphincter.

Some other tips you can try to avoid heartburn include:

  • Lose weight. Extra pounds increase pressure on the stomach and can push acid into the esophagus.
  • Stop smoking. The nicotine in tobacco products stimulates stomach acid and impairs your body's ability to keep stomach contents in place.
  • Eat smaller meals. A large meal stays in your stomach for several hours, raising your risk for heartburn. Instead, try eating three to five smaller meals a day to see if it helps reduce your symptoms.

If you have heartburn more than three times a week for at least two weeks, see your doctor to determine the cause and what you can do to avoid symptoms.