Acid reflux is never pleasant, but when it makes an appearance moments before you go to bed? That’s the worst. And, annoyingly, people who haven’t experienced acid reflux just don’t understand your pain.
Unfortunately for us, we know exactly what it feels like. In fact, up to 20% of the US population experience gastroesophageal reflux disease (recurring acid reflux twice a week or more), and anyone can develop it!
If knowing that millions of people are suffering alongside you doesn’t comfort you enough for sleep, don’t worry. We’ve done the research for you to find the best way to sleep with acid reflux.
First Things First, How Are You Sleeping?
The key to preventing acid from causing you problems is to keep it in your stomach! Despite what you may think, the acid part is completely normal. It’s the reflux that causes the burning, choking feel as the acid irritates the esophagus lining.
This is where your sleep position comes into play – the way you position your body as you go to sleep can control how acid moves (or doesn’t move) when you lay down flat.
Take a look at this diagram (don’t worry, we’re not turning this into a biology lesson!):
Ignore everything but the stomach and the esophagus. See how they’re not perfectly stacked? This makes all the difference.
If we turn the diagram to the left, so our cheerfully dissected model is laying on his left side, we can see that the stomach is actually positioned on top of the esophagus. When you sleep on your left side, any acid overspill from your stomach naturally drops down into the esophagus. Wham. You’ve got acid reflux.
On the other hand, if he lays on his right side to sleep, the stomach is underneath the esophagus and gravity is working with us to keep that irritating acid where it belongs. Amazingly, there are many other supposed health benefits from sleeping on your left side, including improved circulation and helping our brains to filter out waste and toxins from lymph nodes (more studies are needed to confirm it, of course).
Yes, it’s not easy and it’s not for everyone, but sleeping in an upright position does the trick. Basically, you’re using the wonders of gravity to help any acid that arises from your stomach simply fall back down.
So, if sleeping on your left side is just impossible for you, try propping up your back with a mountain of pillows or a V-shaped pillow. You might not need to sleep with your back straight up, so play with the angle until you find a comfy spot to sleep.
5 Tips to Control Acid Reflux Before Bed
Prevention is the best medicine! If you’re sick and tired of acid reflux at bedtime, you might want to consider some changes to your routine and lifestyle. Our 5 top tips are great ways to reduce acid reflux by yourself, so make sure you try these before running to your doctor or pharmacy.
1. Don’t Eat Before Bed!
Getting your stomach all riled up and full of food right before you go to sleep could be causing the acid reflux. If your stomach has half digested your last meal by the time you sleep, there’s less likely to be acid overflow.
3 hours is a good time to wait between your last meal and hitting the pillows. You can either set a reminder 3 hours before your bedtime to lock up the kitchen, or you can wait 3 hours from your last meal (whenever that is) if you have flexible bedtimes.
A good way to pass those 3 hours while getting ready for bed is with an audiobook. Check out these short audiobooks you can listen to in one sitting.
2. Eat Smaller Meals
This works for acid reflux in general rather than just at bedtime. Don’t fill your stomach up to the brim. Instead, have smaller meals but more frequently throughout the day.
If that thought fills you with dread, don’t worry! Just think of it as a chance to enjoy more snacks throughout the day. There’s no reason to put yourself on a diet – unless you want to, of course.
Try swapping your usual plate for a smaller one, or even a bowl, to reduce your portion sizes.
3. Wear Your Comfiest Pajamas
Tight clothes that restrict your chest area are not good for acid reflux. We need space to breathe! Choose light, loose cotton clothing that won’t push, pull and restrict your stomach, thus forcing acid up into your esophagus.
On a similar note, don’t tuck your bedsheets in so tight that they restrict you either, and your duvet shouldn’t be so heavy you’re drowning under it!
4. Relax Your Mind and Body
This is not only good for acid reflux but your mind and bodily functions in general. Make sure you’re feeling nice and relaxed, so you really sink into bed and let out a big sigh of relief. Tense, tight muscles, and anxiety symptoms are going to be hard on your stomach – just like wearing tight, restrictive clothes.
Evening stretches (check out gentle acid reflux yoga routines on YouTube) or a meditation before you sleep is a good way to slow down your breathing and relax all your muscles. If meditating, yoga or reading/listening to books isn’t your thing, you could try watching some TV. An old sitcom (think Friends, or The Big Bang Theory) that lightens your mood without wrecking you with laughter (that’s a recipe for a churned-up stomach) is a good idea. Remember to watch on a dark screen or warm tinted screen to cancel out the blue light that will keep you awake!
5. Quit Smoking
It’s not possible in today’s world to be a smoker and not know the devasting impact the habit is having on your body. Acid reflux is just one of those many side effects.
Smoking can actually relax the muscles in your stomach that keep the acid in place. Great for reducing stress… not so good for acid reflux.
Quitting should be your highest priority but if that’s not possible right now, or you’re slowly reducing how much you smoke each day, then start by not smoking before bed. The last time you eat should also be the last time you smoke.
Should I Take Medicine for My Acid Reflux?
There are several types of medicines available for your acid reflux, some of which you can buy over the counter at your pharmacy without seeing a doctor. Our advice would be to speak to your doctor regardless, if your acid reflux has reached the point where it’s interfering with your day-to-day life and sleep patterns.
For the occasional bout of heartburn before bed which just happens to coincide with a humungous portion of curry at dinner, you’re best using our tips above until the acid reflux subsides.
If your acid reflux is recurring or severe (GERD) then choosing a medicine will be wise.
If left untreated, GERD can cause permanent scarring to your esophagus, which is not only painful but will also make it more difficult to swallow.
Your doctor will know whether you should try simple antacids or PPIs from the pharmacy, or prescribed medication for a stronger treatment.
Conclusion – The Best Way to Sleep with Acid Reflux Is…
On your left side and/or slightly raised. This way gravity is working with you and will help keep acid in the right place. If sleeping with your back raised under a stack of pillows doesn’t work for you, try tilting the entire bedframe, so your spine can be straight yet still elevated to keep your esophagus above your stomach.
If you wish to avoid acid reflux altogether make sure you follow our 5 top tips too! And of course, you should speak with your doctor if you have serious concerns about your acid reflux or sleep troubles.