If you suffer from heartburn at night, you’re not alone. Understanding why your reflux is worse at night is the first step to managing your symptoms, but there are also steps you can take to get a better night’s sleep.
Why Do I Get Heartburn at Night?
Waking up with a sour, bitter, or acidic taste in your mouth, accompanied by chest pain or difficulty swallowing, is a hallmark of heartburn while you’ve been asleep.1 If you experience these heartburn symptoms, the way that you sleep might be the culprit.
The burning sensation in your chest is caused by your stomach acid flowing back into your esophagus, which can happen more frequently at night because you’re lying flat in your bed.1,2 When you are upright, the force of gravity helps keep down stomach acid. But whether you’re a stomach, back, or side sleeper, when you lie in bed your neck and your stomach are at roughly the same level. Stomach acid then has an easier path back to the esophagus, making it easy to experience heartburn.1
You’re likely to be at a higher risk of experiencing these symptoms at night if you:1
- Smoke tobacco products
- Drink many alcoholic, carbonated, or caffeinated beverages
- Eat large meals close to bedtime
- Consume foods that are spicy, acidic, or fatty.
While quitting smoking and changing your eating and drinking habits can affect how you experience heartburn symptoms, these healthier steps won’t change the fact that you’re still lying flat in your sleep.
How to Elevate Your Head to Help Reduce Acid Reflux Symptoms
One of the best ways to prevent acid reflux from occurring in your sleep is to raise your bed so that your head is consistently elevated during the night.2,3 There are a few options for tackling this:
- Use risers under your bed frame to raise the head of your bed.
- Place a book or some bricks under your mattress, or between your mattress and box spring that raises the side of the mattress where you lay your head.
- Invest in an adjustable bed frame that you can raise and lower with the touch of a button.
Make sure that the head of your bed is raised about six to eight inches to prevent acid reflux while laying down.2 While a higher head elevation might be more effective, this height range is comfortable for most people to get a good night’s sleep.2
You should also ensure that your shoulder blades are elevated, since the intersection of the stomach and the esophagus is located at the same elevation of the lower part of your shoulder blades.2 Elevating the head of the bed about seven inches ensures that your stomach acid won’t back up into your throat.
Can You Use Pillows to Elevate Your Head?
Using a wedge pillow can also help you keep your head elevated while sleeping. A wedge pillow secures your position as you sleep and is as effective as elevating your bed.2 Although wedge pillows may cause neck pain, they are much more effective in reducing acid reflux than using normal pillows.2 Sleeping with a normal pillow may cause you to slide down as you sleep.2 Stacking multiple pillows is also not advised, as this will likely put your head at an angle that compresses the stomach to worsen your acid reflux.2
Managing Acid Reflux with OTC Products
While dealing with frequent heartburn caused by acid reflux can be challenging, it can be managed with a combination of diet and lifestyle changes, and medication like Nexium 24HR capsules. By taking Nexium 24HR once a day for 14 days, you can help treat your symptoms of frequent heartburn.
If you find that you’re experiencing frequent heartburn pain, talk to your doctor or healthcare provider for guidance on next steps. Learn how to manage your symptoms so you can start the day well-rested.
- Waking Up with Heartburn at Night: Causes & Treatments. The Centre for Gastrointestinal Health. https://centreforgastrointestinalhealth.com.au/resources/wake-up-with-heartburn/. Accessed 4/4/2023.
- How to Relieve Acid Reflux with a Raised Bed. Esophageal and Gastric Cancer Support. https://opa.org.uk/how-to-relieve-acid-reflux-with-a-raised-bed/. Accessed 4/4/2023.
- Head of bed elevation to relieve gastroesophageal reflux symptoms: a systematic review. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7816499/. Accessed 4/4/2023.