How To Prevent Heartburn And Acid Reflux – Waking up with acid reflux and heartburn in the morning can be startling and uncomfortable. And while you might be used to feeling mild reflux after a big, spicy meal or even after a workout, you might be surprised to find that you also wake up with acid reflux.
If you have reflux, heartburn, or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), it’s important to understand the difference between daytime symptoms and nighttime symptoms—which may be why you wake up with heartburn.
There are small muscles in your esophagus that contract when you don’t eat, preventing stomach acid from splashing back into your esophagus. However, sometimes these muscles are weak or don’t work properly, allowing acid to pass from the stomach into the esophagus. This is the cause of acid reflux and heartburn.
Note: Heartburn is not directly related to the heart, although pain may occur in the chest due to the location of the stomach and lower esophagus. However, severe heartburn and the symptoms of a heart attack can sometimes be difficult to distinguish. If you experience unusually severe chest pain, it is important to seek emergency care – especially if you have a personal or family history of heart disease.
Acid reflux and heartburn in the morning can be embarrassing and quite painful. However, if left untreated, it can also cause serious damage to your esophagus – in some cases, this can even lead to esophageal cancer.
When fighting acid reflux and heartburn, it’s important to know the difference between daytime symptoms and nighttime symptoms.
Although the symptoms of acid reflux are often the same regardless of the time of day, the resulting pain may be less severe at night.
If you find yourself waking up with heartburn in the morning or in the middle of the night, the burning may subside enough that you fall back asleep without overcoming the discomfort. However, a decrease in pain can be a misleading indicator because, contrary to what you might think, acid reflux at night is just as bad and should be treated just as aggressively—if not more so—than daytime episodes.
There’s enough of a difference between acid reflux when you’re awake and when you’re asleep to classify it as daytime or nighttime. Compared to daytime GERD, nighttime reflux occurs less often, but the episodes last longer. The longer stomach acid stays in the esophagus, the greater the risk of inflammation and erosive damage. Not surprisingly, long-term health problems are more likely to occur with reflux that occurs while you sleep.
Why the difference? The reason is related to physiological changes from day to night. During the day, the upright position improves digestion and your stomach empties faster. When there is nothing in your stomach, there is nothing to reflux. Also, the normal swallowing process uses saliva that is formulated to neutralize acid, while also helping to eliminate acid reflux from the esophagus.
When sleeping, however, the stomach empties more slowly. Delayed gastric emptying can cause bloating, which can cause the LES valve (lower esophageal sphincter) to relax and allow stomach acid to back up into the esophagus. Swallowing activity also decreases and is completely closed during deep sleep.
When you wake up in the night with reflux, your body may try to reactivate the swallowing process and empty the esophagus and protect your airways from acid exposure. Still, it is possible to sleep through episodes of reflux and even painful heartburn, given the altered state of consciousness associated with sleep. In that case, the acid exposure is longer and potentially more dangerous.
A study published in the Journal of Family Practice, “Diagnostic Challenges: Differentiating Nighttime GERD,” reported that esophageal complications of GERD appeared to be worse in patients who had GERD episodes at night compared to those who complained of daytime reflux. Prolonged acid exposure at night increases the risk of esophagitis becoming erosion.
Nocturnal GERD has not only physical effects, but also quality of life problems. Sleep disorders can affect general health and well-being as well as work productivity. Lack of sleep can also lead to overeating, which in turn causes reflux.
What can you do to relieve acid reflux at night? 1. Do not eat at least 3 hours before going to bed
One way that can make nighttime acid reflux and heartburn worse and cause acid reflux in the morning is eating before bed. Many people prefer to eat dinner closer to bedtime, but for those struggling with acid reflux, this can be a recipe for disaster.
What can you do? Move dinner a little earlier and cut down on late night snacks. The last meal or snack of the day should be eaten about 3 hours before going to bed. When there is a longer time between your last meal and bedtime, your stomach may become empty, so it does not recover while you sleep.
Note that some foods, such as ketchup, citrus fruits, and spicy foods, can make reflux symptoms worse. It’s also a good idea to avoid excessive drinking and smoking – these can also trigger GERD at any time of day.
Certain medications can help keep your reflux symptoms to a minimum and prevent you from waking up with heartburn in the morning. However, as with all medications, side effects can occur, so it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before using anything to treat your symptoms, especially if you’re already taking other medications.
In general, three types of drugs are used to reduce heartburn and reflux:
If you have frequent heartburn and acid reflux, you may have GERD. Before starting any type of medication, talk to your doctor to decide which procedure is best for you. Since drugs can have worrying side effects, it is also worth considering less invasive forms of symptom relief – often they can also be more effective.
When you sleep in a reclined position, your exposure to acid and acid elimination time (the time it takes for your body to naturally remove acid from your esophagus) is greatly reduced. And when you sleep on your side, relief comes faster than sleeping on your back or back. Sleeping on the left side means fewer episodes of reflux, while sleeping on the right side allows the stomach to empty more quickly: this is why many people choose a special acid reflux pillow.
Currently, the only sleep system that keeps you comfortable on the slopes and on your side is the Heartburn Pillow™. Thanks to its 3-part construction, you rest in the best lying position for reflux, helping to reduce the worst symptoms. Your esophagus has less time to heal and you are better rested without reflux or heartburn in the morning.
Remember that some tilting products – like wedge pillows and bed risers – only support you at an angle without holding you on your side. If you cycle on your back, you are not in the optimal position to relieve reflux. Or if you slide under the bed or off the pillow, you don’t get the benefit of gravity to reduce acid exposure.
Given the difference between nighttime and daytime GERD, it makes sense to do your best to find a way to sleep without acid reflux. Keep these tips in mind as you find the methods that work best for you:
Acid reflux can range from subtle to extremely painful, but with the right treatment tips, you can avoid your symptoms. Even if you don’t experience painful symptoms, these simple lifestyle changes will have a positive impact on your physical health and quality of life.
Reference: “Heartburn – Symptoms and Causes”. Mayo Clinic, 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/symptoms-causes/syc-20373223. Accessed 29 September 2020. “Heartburn – diagnosis and treatment”. Mayo Clinic, 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20373229. Accessed September 2020. Brunton, Stephen MD; McGuigan, James MD. “Diagnostic challenges: differentiating nocturnal GERD.” Journal of Family Practice. Butter. 54, no. 12. Read more. December 2005. Holloway RH; Hongo M; Berger K; & McCallum RW. “Gastric distension: a mechanism for postprandial gastroesophageal reflux.” Gastroenterology. 1985 Oct;89(4):779-84. Read more. October 1985. Orzel-Gryglewska, Jolanta, “Sequences of Lack of Sleep”. International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health 2010;23(1):95 – 114DOI 10.2478/v10001-010-0004-9. 25 Aug 2009. Khan BA, et al. Effect of head-of-bed elevation during sleep in symptomatic patients with nocturnal gastroesophageal reflux. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2012 Jun;27(6):1078-82. Jun 27, 2012. Nowadays, many people dream of having a good meal in a restaurant. Maybe a few shared appetizers for the table – something spicy or cheesy and a cocktail or glass of wine. Then order an indulgent main course and enjoy with coffee and dessert. Things most people don’t do
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