About 20% of Americans suffer from GERD — gastroesophageal reflux disease, a common cause of chronic heartburn. Most of us have a little heartburn from time to time. But when it happens regularly, it can damage your esophagus — and it can also interfere with your sleep.
ENT Specialists offers acid reflux treatment tailored to the individual needs of patients at our offices in Salt Lake City, Murray, Draper, Tooele, and West Jordan, Utah. If heartburn is keeping you awake at night, here's how our team can help.
Why acid reflux happens
Normally, a valve called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) keeps foods and acids inside your stomach. Once food reaches your stomach, the LES closes immediately, preventing food and stomach acid from moving backward into the esophagus.
If the LES is weakened or damaged, it may not close all the way, or it may open when it’s not supposed to, allowing acid to “reflux” — move into your esophagus. The acids irritate the esophagus, producing symptoms of chest pain or burning sensations.
Lots of factors can cause or contribute to acid reflux, including:
- Eating spicy foods, fatty foods, or foods high in acids
- Consuming caffeine, alcohol, or carbonated drinks
- Being overweight or obese
- Bending over after eating
Some medicines also increase the risk of acid reflux, including certain blood pressure medicines and muscle relaxants, or over-the-counter medicines like aspirin or ibuprofen.
Acid reflux symptoms are also more common at bedtime. That’s because when you lie down, it’s easier for acids to move out of your stomach and back into your esophagus.
7 tips to prevent nighttime acid reflux
Medication can help you control acid reflux at night as well as during the day. You can also take these steps to reduce your risk of having heartburn at bedtime.
#1: Don’t eat before bed
Avoid eating anything — even snacks — for the three hours before bed. That gives your body time to process and digest your food before you lie down for the night.
#2: Elevate your head
Keeping your head slightly elevated taps into the “power of gravity” to help prevent acid from moving back into your esophagus. Try propping your head (and maybe your shoulders, too) with a stack of pillows or a wedge designed to keep your head raised while you sleep.
#3: Sleep on your left side
Your stomach “slopes” to the left side of your body. If you’re a side-sleeper, lying on your left side may help keep foods and acids in your stomach, preventing them from “leaking” up into your esophagus.
#4: Quit smoking
Smoking contributes to GERD in a few ways. First, it decreases certain compounds in your saliva, interfering with the first, critical stage of digestion. Second, it weakens the sphincter that keeps stomach acid in your stomach, making it more likely that acid will back up into your esophagus. And finally, smoking can make you cough, which can force stomach acid into your esophagus.
#5: Wear comfy pajamas
Clothes that are tight around your waist or press on your belly increase the risk of reflux by constricting your stomach and making it harder for digested food and acids to “stay put.” In fact, it’s a good idea to wear loose-fitting clothing any time you’re going to have a big meal.
#6: Modify what — and how often — you eat
For dinner, limit fatty foods and focus mostly on vegetables and grains, or opt for plain oatmeal, a food that absorbs excess stomach acid. (Avoid instant packets and add-ins, which can actually trigger GERD.)
You can also try eating a few smaller meals during the day instead of two or three large meals. Smaller meals digest more quickly, helping your stomach to “empty out” before bed.
#7: Take an after-dinner walk
A leisurely walk helps stimulate digestion, moving food out of your stomach faster and reducing the risk of reflux. A slow walk is great; walking too fast or exerting yourself too much could wind up triggering reflux and interfering with digestion instead.
Don’t ignore chronic symptoms
Heartburn isn’t just uncomfortable and annoying. Without treatment, chronic reflux can lead to changes in the esophageal tissue, which in turn increases the risk of developing cancer of the esophagus.
The good news: Acid reflux can be treated — the key is seeing a doctor early, before damage has a chance to occur. To learn how our team can help you manage your reflux symptoms, book an appointment online or over the phone with ENT Specialists today.