Nighttime Heartburn

Heartburn is a condition with a misleading name. It isn’t an affliction of the heart at all. It’s an irritation of the esophagus that occurs when stomach acid seeps upward through the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), and causes an unpleasant burning sensation. For those who suffer from heartburn, 80% report having symptoms at night, interfering with their sleep. If you’re one of those, here are some steps you can take to improve your comfort level.


Avoid large meals in the evening. Having your main meal mid-day can be much easier on your digestive system. Also avoid late-night snacking for a few hours before going to bed.


Limit or restrict certain foods. There are some foods that are known to relax the esophageal muscle, allowing gastric juices to escape from your stomach and cause a burning sensation. These foods are: tomatoes, citrus fruits, cranberry juice, raw onions, chocolate, coffee, alcohol, ice cream, milk shakes, brownies, donuts, corn chips, caffeine and peppermint. Foods high in fats can also have this effect. Just because a food is listed here it may not always cause heartburn. If you are prone to acid reflux, then try removing some of these foods from your diet for a few weeks to see what relief you gain. It’s a good idea to keep a food journal to note what you are experiencing. Consult with your physician to come up with an appropriate diet plan for your heartburn.


Enjoy these foods in moderation. Low-acid orange juice, apple cider, blueberries, raspberries, grapes, peaches, cooked onions, leeks, eggs, chicken fish, lean beef, yogurt, lowfat cottage cheese, and mozzarella cheese. This list is a general guideline and will vary from person to person.


Take an antacid. There are many over the counter relief medicines for helping to control stomach discomfort. These often bring fast relief. If symptoms persist or worsen, talk to your doctor.  It could be something more serious than heartburn.


Eat 2-3 hours before bedtime. Laying horizontal with a full stomach puts pressure on the LES, a muscular valve that keeps stomach acid in the stomach where it’s needed for digestion.


Sleep on your left side. It’s been found that sleeping on your left side aids the digestive process, while sleeping on the right side can make it worse.


No smoking. It’s double trouble. Smoking relaxes the LES and also stimulates the production of stomach acid. Both of these play a large role in aggravating heartburn symptoms and are good reasons to quit smoking.


No cocktails. Alcohol affects the LES in the same way smoking does. Avoiding it altogether is best if you suffer from heartburn. If you must drink, try diluting your cocktail with water or club soda and limit yourself to 1-2 mixed drinks or one glass of wine.


Elevate your head. To keep stomach acid from flowing into the esophagus, you can use a wedge-shaped pillow or elevate the head of your bed 6-8 inches. You can raise your bed at a slight angle by securely placing bricks or wood under the bed feet closest to the headboard. 

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