When you eat, your food passes through a pipe called the esophagus and reaches the stomach after which the actual digestion happens with the help of gastric acids. There are different conditions that lead to this food regurgitating, causing heartburn from the acidic, half-digested food. This condition is far more common during nighttime when a person goes to bed after a heavy meal. This can lead to sleeplessness and further worsening of the heartburn condition.
If left untreated, the lower portion of the esophagus where food regurgitates into can develop ulcers or even cancer. Therefore, identifying and treating nighttime heartburn is important.
Anyone can have heartburn after a heavy meal once in a while, but if the problem is persistent, it needs to be looked into. The following conditions are known to cause heartburn during the night.
- Increased consumption of carbonated soft drinks
- High blood pressure
- Sleep disorders
- Eating heavy meals at night (especially oily and spicy foods and acidic foods like citrus fruits and chocolates)
- Medications like anti-anxiety drugs
Nighttime heartburn can lead to disrupted sleep as well as a decrease in the overall functioning during the day (lethargy and low energy levels). Therefore, managing it becomes essential, which can be easily done with a few lifestyle changes.
A lot of simple lifestyle changes including diet and sleeping habits can help control nighttime heartburn. Here are a few other ways to manage it:
- Sleep with a pillow to the left: A pillow ensures your heart and stomach are not at the same level, thereby preventing the reflux of acid from the stomach. Also, as the stomach is on the left side, it is easier on the stomach when one sleeps on the left.
- Avoid late meals: This ensures that the food would have passed through the stomach by the time of hitting the bed. A gap of 2 hours between the last meal and sleep time helps here. The chances of reflux are reduced. Also, avoid carbonated drinks, caffeinated beverages, and fatty foods, especially during the night, to reduce reflux.
- Keep a record: Different people have different triggers, which can be identified by keeping a track of your eating habits and then avoiding the triggers to reduce reflux.
- Change your eating habits: Practice to eat in a relaxed, non-hurried manner by sitting upright. Eating in a hurry produces more acid and sitting upright helps control the acid flow upwards.
- Weight loss: Obesity is a common cause of heartburn, and weight loss will help control acid reflux and will induce better sleep.
- Quit smoking: This aggravates acid production and so reducing or quitting smoking definitely reduces acid reflux (in addition to multiple other benefits.)
- Indulge in regular exercise: While regular exercise helps in food digestion and reduces acidity, working out immediately after eating should be avoided as it can cause other digestive issues.
In conclusion, when you have heartburn at night, making a few lifestyle changes can take you a long way. If the problem still persists, then it is best to get in touch with a doctor.