People who experience heartburn at night can find it painful and interferes with their sleep.
A few common causes of heartburn at night include eating specific foods, eating too close to bedtime, and taking certain prescription medicines.
Nighttime heartburn or worsening symptoms of heartburn may be a sign of GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease).
Many simple home remedies can help ease the symptoms while a person is working with a doctor to find a solution that is more permanent.
Learn about the possible causes of nighttime heartburn, and how to treat them in this article.
Heartburn occurs as a result of leaking food and acid from the stomach up into the food pipe or esophagus. Experiencing heartburn at night can mean a person was eating too early before going to bed.
This moves through the esophagus as a person swallows their food, and into the stomach through a band of muscle called the esophageal sphincter. The esophageal sphincter functions as a barrier to the stomach, stopping the flow of food back into the esophagus.
The esophageal sphincter can sometimes fail to close completely, allowing acid and food to escape into the esophagus from the stomach upwards. When this occurs this triggers the feeling of burning that people call heartburn.
Night-time heartburn can occur as the person lies down to sleep, or as they sleep.
The force of gravity helps to keep acid and food inside the stomach during digestion, making symptoms less likely when someone eats while sitting or standing.
Nonetheless, their location can make it easier for the stomach contents to leak back through the esophageal sphincter when the person lies down.
Several other risk factors lead to night-time heartburn including:
- dietary triggers, such as spicy food
- having obesity
- high stress levels
- smoking or drinking alcohol
- wearing tight fitting clothing
- eating very large meals
- eating too close to bedtime
It is common for women to experience heartburn during pregnancy, even if they have not experienced it regularly before they become pregnant.
2015 research notes that 17–45 percent of females experience heartburn during pregnancy. It can occur for a number of reasons, including added pressure inside the body, weight gain, hormone changes and stress levels.
Changes in diet and lifestyle can mostly help control symptoms of heartburn.
However, if home remedies prove ineffective for pregnant women, or they can not take certain medicines, they should discuss other options with a doctor.
Treatments and home remedies
Many home remedies and nonprescription medications may help people deal with heartburn at night.
Over- the-counter (OTC) drugs, such as antacids or acid reduction agents, can help treat mild digestive discomfort and heartburn.
Antacids function by neutralizing the acid in the stomach, providing symptom relief. There are several different OTC antacids to choose from, among them:
- calcium carbonate (Tums)
- magnesium hydroxide (Milk of Magnesia)
- sodium bicarbonate (baking soda, Alka-Seltzer)
- bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol)
Acid reducers function to decrease acid production in the stomach. Two major types of acid reducers exist: proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and histamine antagonists (H2 antagonists).
A few different OTC acid reducers are available, including:
- famotidine (Pepcid AC)
- omeprazole (Prilosec OTC)
- esomeprazole (Nexium 24HR)
Similar medications may be available with a doctor’s prescription.
Such OTC medications can help relieve heartburn, but are not long-term solutions. Anyone who uses OTC heartburn relief drugs should talk to a doctor if the symptoms last for longer than 2 weeks.
If nocturnal heartburn becomes a regular issue, it is best to see a doctor for a diagnosis and discuss options for long-term treatment.
Meanwhile some home remedies will alleviate symptoms. Including:
Sleeping on the left side of the body
People can find that if they sleep on their left side their symptoms get better. Some believe this helps to relieve stomach pressure, making it less likely that stomach acid will leak into the esophagus.
Elevating the head and chest
If stomach acid leaks back into the esophagus as they lie down, heartburn can occur for people who sleep on their back.
In such situations, the person can attempt to reduce their symptoms by using gravity and elevating the head and chest above the lower abdomen.
One way to keep the upper body more straight during the night is by specially designed wedge pillows. Alternatively a person can try to slightly raise the upper half of the bed. Putting cinder blocks, bricks, or wood beams tightly under the bed’s head will help.
The National Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Institute reports that simply placing extra pillows under the head won’t help. The objective is to raise the entire upper abdomen to allow the gravity force to keep down the stomach acid.
Excess weight puts more pressure on the belly, and the risk of heartburn will increase.
Losing weight can help relieve symptoms if necessary. Nevertheless, pregnant women usually should not try to lose weight, so they should speak to a doctor about other choices.
Avoiding tight clothing
Wearing tight, restrictive clothing sometimes puts pressure on the abdomen, making it more likely to cause heartburn.
It may be better for people to wear loose fitting pyjamas to bed, rather than restrictive clothing such as bras, compression tops, or tight waistband pieces.
Avoiding late night snacking
Eating too late at night can cause symptoms to flare up, too. Upon eating foods require time to pass through the stomach and further into the digestive system.
People who eat closer to bedtime and experience heartburn may want to try to stop at least 2–3 hours before going to bed.
Eating smaller meals
Eating a large or high fat meal at night will mean the body is still trying to digest the meal by bedtime.
Switching to smaller or lighter meals later in the day may help in reducing some people’s risk of heartburn.
The authors of a 2014 study recommend eating no fewer than three meals each day but aiming for four or five meals. They reason people who eat more often get smaller meals.
Avoiding trigger foods
Some foods may be more likely than others to trigger heartburn. Common food triggers for heartburn include:
- tomatoes and tomato products, such as pasta sauce and ketchup
- citrus fruits, including oranges and lemons
- spicy foods
- greasy foods
- carbonated beverages, such as soda or sparkling water
- coffee, tea, or other caffeinated beverages
Smoking can help to reduce heartburn. Smoking irritates the esophagus, and the esophageal sphincter may also relax and increase stomach acid.
Smoking can also cause severe coughing, which can in some cases exacerbate heartburn.
Checking medication side effects
Heartburn is a common side-effect of many medicines. If a person starts having heartburn shortly after they start taking a new medicine at night, the drug could be the cause.
Anyone who thinks the side effect of a drug is their symptoms should talk to their doctor. It is important that you do not stop taking any medicine without first consulting a doctor.
It’s normal to experience heartburn at night, particularly if someone is eating too late at night.
People can treat occasional heartburn attacks by using OTC antacids or simply making changes in lifestyle.
Anyone who experiences heartburn frequently at night, or finds the symptoms deteriorating over time, should see a doctor. The doctor can assist in recognizing any underlying conditions, such as GERD.