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Woman's stomach suffering from acid reflux

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What you need to know about GERD and acid reflux sleeping position!

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It's estimated GERD affects 20% of adults in the U.S.

Most individuals with GERD experience increased symptoms severity, like heartburn, while they're trying to sleep or are sleeping. 

Understanding how acid reflux are impacted by your sleeping position could help you manage this condition better at night. 

 

GERD and Acid Reflux

 

Gastroesophageal and acid reflux in humans

GERD stands for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. It occurs when the acid in your stomach often flows back into the tube that connects your stomach (esophagus) and mouth. 

This backwash, which is acid reflux, can aggravate your esophagus lining.

Many individuals experience acid reflux here and there. 

GERD is considered mild acid reflux if occurring a minimum of twice weekly, or it can be a moderate to severe acid reflux if it occurs a minimum of once weekly.

Most individuals can manage GERD's discomfort with lifestyle changes and OTC medications. But some individuals with GERD might require stronger medicine or even surgery to alleviate the symptoms.

Symptoms

 

Two examples of symptoms caused by GERD and acid reflux are trouble swallowing and heartburn

Common GERD symptoms include:

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Chest pain

  • Regurgitation of sour liquid or food

  • Heartburn (burning sensation in your chest), typically after eating, which could become worse at night

  • A sensation of a lump in the throat

If you're experiencing acid reflux at night, you may also experience:

  • Laryngitis

  • Chronic cough

  • Disrupted sleep

  • Worsening or new asthma

Causes

 

Spicy foods, dairy products, medications, and asthma can cause gastric reflux 

Relaxation or weakness of your lower esophageal sphincter (valve) causes acid reflux. Typically, this valve closes up tight once food enters your stomach. When it relaxes when it shouldn't, the contents of your stomach come back up into your esophagus.

Factors that could cause this are:

  • Too much abdominal pressure. Certain pregnant women find they are experiencing heartburn almost every day due to this increased pressure.

  • Medications. This may include medications for high blood pressure, asthma, and allergies, along with sedatives, painkillers, and antidepressants.

  • Certain types of food and eating habits. Spicy, dairy, or fried foods can be a culprit along with eating habits, such as eating too quickly.

  • A hiatal hernia. Your stomach's upper part bulges into your diaphragm, which gets in the way of regular food intake.

  • Sleeping position. There are certain types of sleep positions that can worsen acid reflux as you'll learn below.

 

Why Does Acid Reflux Happen at Night?

 

Gastric reflux occurs at night in humans

If you keep getting acid reflux at night and are asking yourself, "why do I have acid reflux every night?", you're not alone. There are several reasons why acid reflux is worse at night:

  • The stomach acid concentration is higher at night.

  • Your sleeping position plays a role. When lying down, it's simpler for acid to reflux and stays in your esophagus.

  • While sleeping, you don't swallow.

 

Is Acid Reflux Worse When You Lay Down?

 

Man suffering even more from gastric reflux when lying down

Certain GERD symptoms, like choking and coughing, tend to become worse when you're lying down or trying to sleep. 

Lying flat won't let gravity help move acids and food down your esophagus, through the digestive system, therefore, the acid just pools in one place. 

This acid backflow from your stomach into your esophagus could reach all the way up to your larynx and throat and cause you to experience a choking or coughing sensation, waking you up from sleep.

 

How to Prevent Acid Reflux While Sleeping?

 

How to prevent stomach acid reflux at night 

Ways to prevent acid reflux while you sleep are:

  • Consult a doctor. Talk with your doctor about acid reflux, your sleeping position - to know which one is best - and other tips to help reduce or eliminate acid reflux while you sleep.

  • Avoid eating late. The issue might be even greater if you go to bed right after you eat and/or consume foods that actually trigger GERD.

  • Raise the head of your bed.  Along with your acid reflux sleeping position, sleeping on an adjustable bed where you can raise the head of your bed is ideal. You can also try a pillow with adjustable layers, a wedge-shaped pillow, a mattress lifter or add a pillow for helping to keep the contents of your stomach from moving upward. 

  • Eat more frequent and smaller meals. Eat a few smaller meals during the day instead of two or big hefty meals. Try to avoid consuming high-fat, high-calorie meals in the evening.

  • Consume food that helps symptoms of acid reflux. Consume foods like vegetables, ginger, seafood, lean meats, healthy fats, egg whites and noncitrus fruits which all help with acid reflux symptoms.

  • Chew your food. Slowly chewing your food will make your food smaller and could make digestion simpler.

  • Quit smoking. Smoking can aggravate your airways, esophagus and could cause coughing, which could trigger acid reflux.

  • Choose the right acid reflux sleeping position. Talk with your doctor about or experiment with different sleeping positions to see what helps with acid reflux. Also, a hybrid mattress is flexible so they offer you comfort in any sleeping position and they work great with adjustable beds.

 

What Is the Best Sleeping Position for Acid Reflux?

 

Sleeping on your left side helps reduce gastric reflux at night

Throughout the day, you're most likely sitting up or standing when acid from your stomach escapes, saliva, and gravity quickly returns this possibly harmful substance back to your stomach. 

Nighttime is a different story though. 

Depending on how you sleep, your esophagus could actually be below your stomach which allows acid to flow freely out, where it just sits in your lungs, esophagus, sinuses, and throat. 

This isn't good for your body.

The way you sleep could directly impact how frequently you experience symptoms, how bad these symptoms are and how long acid is allowed to sit in your esophagus. 

Fortunately, you can dramatically change your nights, simply by changing how you sleep. 

Below are some of the best (and not so best) sleep positions for acid reflux.

Back side: 

Sleeping on your back isn't recommended when you have nighttime acid reflux. When acid escapes from your belly and you're sleeping on your back flat, it's allowed to freely flow into your esophagus and in other areas and just sit there.

Right side: 

Sleeping on your right side isn't ideal either when you experience acid reflux at night. When you lie flat on your right side, this causes your stomach to sit above your esophagus which creates a leaky faucet of stomach acid that flows into your esophagus's delicate lining, particularly if your stomach is full.

Left side: 

Sleeping on your left side helps to reduce reflux. Gravity works in your favor since it positions your stomach below your esophagus, making reflux more difficult. If you were to have stomach acid escape, gravity would help return it back to your stomach faster than if you were on your right side or sleeping on your back. 

Inclined on the left side: 

This is probably the best way to sleep. The compound left-side, inclined sleep position makes nighttime acid reflux nearly impossible since your esophagus is now well above your stomach contents, even when you have a full belly. 

Plus, if you do reflux, gravity will return the contents quickly to your belly. Sleeping inclined on your left side decreases your GERD symptoms and provides protection from lengthy acid exposure to your throat, lungs, esophagus, and sinuses.

 

5 Tips to Keep Acid Reflux and GERD from Ruining your Sleep

 

Five tips to prevent GERD and gastric reflux from ruining your sleep

  1. Have lunch be your largest meal of the day. Your dinners should be lighter.

  1. Drink apple cider vinegar. A lot of people had seen good results by drinking 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar mix with water in the morning.

  1. Wear loose pajamas. When your clothes are too tight, it could place pressure on your tummy, which can lead to acid backflow into your esophagus.

  1. Elevate your head in bed. If you experience nighttime acid reflux, keeping your head up is recommended. An adjustable pillow or adjustable bed should do the trick.

  1. Choose the right mattress. Hybrid mattresses, like Polysleep hybrid mattresses, are beneficial. They're very flexible and allow you to maintain a good sleeping position. 

Learn more : Sleeping position in pregnancy

Belly of a pregnant woman lying on her side

See your doctor. If lifestyle changes or these acid reflux sleeping positions below don't help, it’s time to head to your doctor. Over-the-counter medicine may be able to help.

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