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The Reason Your Heartburn is Worse at Night


Whether after eating food with tomato sauce or wearing tight pants, you dread that unpleasant burning sensation in your chest. If you’re suffering from heartburn, you’re not alone. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, more than 60 million Americans have heartburn at least once a month, and 15 million experience it every day. Elderly people and pregnant women are more likely to experience symptoms of heartburn.

Heartburn, or acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux), occurs when liquids in the stomach flow back into the esophagus. This happens when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the muscle between the esophagus and the stomach, relaxes. During eating, the LES relaxes to let food into the stomach and contracts to prevent backflow into the esophagus. Even in people who don’t experience acid reflux, stomach acid may travel into the esophagus for brief periods without symptoms.

Why Do You Get Reflux More at Night?

You may experience more reflux at night than during the day. The reason for this is gravity. When you sit or stand, gravity helps move the food through your esophagus and into the stomach. When you’re laying down, you lose the effect of gravity on the food traveling through your digestive system. Laying down also prevents gravity from keeping bile and acids from traveling up into the esophagus, causing heartburn. Because of this, many people find their heartburn is worse at night.

How to Reduce Nighttime Heartburn

  • Lose Weight. People who are overweight (a BMI of 25 or above) are more likely to suffer from heartburn. If you have a BMI of 25 or above and you want to lose weight, our nutrition counseling services may be able to help.
  • Stop Smoking. A study found that patients GERD improved by more than 40 percent after they stopped smoking. In the same study, the people who didn’t quit smoking saw a less than 20 percent improvement. Quitting smoking is one of the most important things you can do to improve GERD symptoms. It also improves your overall health.
  • Change Your Eating Habits. For those suffering from chronic heartburn, smaller, less fatty meals may offer relief. Aim for less than 500 calories and 20 grams of fat. After eating, wait at least three hours before going to bed. It takes four to five hours for the stomach to fully digest a meal, and waiting three hours after eating will make you much more comfortable.
  • Use Medications. Proton pump inhibitors are commonly prescribed to control acid reflux.
  • Consider Food Sensitivities When Making Choices. During meal planning and preparation, keep your food sensitivities in mind. Avoid foods that can trigger digestive problems. These foods may include tomatoes, lemons, dairy products, or alcohol.
  • Use a Body Pillow. A body pillow or other sleep positioning implement will keep you on your left side. Lying on your left side allows acids to pass through the lower esophageal sphincter into the stomach. Make sure your head is elevated, too, as this allows gravity to work.

If you have tried some or all of these suggestions, and you’re still experiencing symptoms of acid reflux, request an appointment today.

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