Best Sleeping Position for Heartburn Relief

05. 18. 2015

Approximately seven million Americans suffer from symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and 75 percent of them experience nighttime heartburn. The reason why is fairly simple. When you stand throughout the day, gravity helps to keep the esophagus clear of food and digestive fluids. But when you lie down, you lose the assistance of gravity, and acid can easily flow back into the esophagus.

Heartburn is bothersome at any time, but nighttime heartburn carries its own set of problems. GERD sufferers who experience late-night symptoms are more likely to have sleep disturbances such as insomnia sleep apnea, and daytime sleepiness (Source: Everyday Health). Research has also shown that nighttime heartburn increases the risk for esophageal cancer because the reclined position allows digestive acid to remain in the esophagus longer. A study by the American Gastronenterological Association found that people with nighttime heartburn were 11 times more likely to develop esophageal cancer than those who did not have nighttime symptoms.

There are several practical steps you can take to prevent nighttime heartburn: eating a light dinner, staying upright after eating and avoiding late-night snacking. But sometimes, even when you do everything right, nighttime heartburn can strike. If you’ve taken all the necessary precautions and you still experience heartburn at bedtime, changing your sleep position may be able to offer some relief. Positional therapy is the practice of altering your sleep posture to control heartburn symptoms, and in many cases it is extremely effective. Here are some tips for changing your sleep posture to keep heartburn symptoms under control and help you sleep soundly:

  • DO sleep on your left side. Left-side sleeping places your stomach below the esophagus and reduces the likelihood of reflux.
  • DON’T sleep on your right side. This places the stomach above the esophagus and relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing acid to flow into the esophagus.
  • DO elevate your torso. Whether you prop yourself up with a wedge-shaped pillow or raise the head of your bed with blocks, elevating your upper body by at least six inches will allow gravity to work in your favor and prevent reflux.
  • DON’T prop yourself up with regular pillows. This will only raise your head, not your entire upper body.
  • DON’T lie down flat in your bed, as this will allow acid to easily reflux into the esophagus (Source: WebMD).

If you find that nighttime heartburn still persists after changing your sleep position and nighttime habits, schedule an appointment to see your doctor. Long-term reflux can lead to serious health problems and should not be left untreated. Your doctor can perform tests to find the source of your reflux and prescribe the right treatment to get it under control. There’s no reason that reflux should prevent you from getting a good night’s rest, so take action today!

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