Acid reflux is caused when a circular muscle that joins your stomach and esophagus weakens. This muscle is meant to tighten your esophagus once the food you eat goes to the stomach. If it's weak, the acid in your stomach can go up to your esophagus, which is known as acid reflux. Acid reflux can sometimes happen due to something you ate or if you went to bed right after eating.
Acid reflux causes several symptoms like a sore throat, cough, sour taste in your mouth or a bitter taste in the back of the mouth, and a burning sensation or pressure going up the breastbone. When untreated, acid reflux can cause several complications like adult-onset asthma, Barrett's esophagus, sinusitis, and stricture.
GERD is chronic acid reflux. A doctor can diagnose GERD if acid reflux happens more than two times a week. It can also be diagnosed if acid reflux causes esophagus inflammation. GERD is more severe and can cause pain that may not be relieved with over-the-counter medication. GERD symptoms include bad breath, trouble swallowing, heartburn, chest pain, dry cough, damaged tooth enamel, and asthma. It's often caused by long-lasting habits like smoking, obesity, hiatal hernia, frequent alcohol consumption, some medicines, and pregnancy. Untreated GERD can cause cancer due to damage to the esophagus.
GERD and acid reflux are two different things, though the terms are often used interchangeably. Acid reflux is a more common medical condition that can be mild or severe. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is chronic and more severe than acid reflux.
If you suffer from GERD or acid reflux, you are probably not getting the quality sleep you need. The good news is that you can do things to improve your sleep and reduce the symptoms of both acid reflux GERD.
1. Avoid late-night eating
You should avoid late-night eating because going to bed right after a big meal can cause acid reflux and GERD. Eating late at night is one of the most common reasons people experience acid reflux and GERD. It happens because the fatty food will stay in your stomach longer than usual, which can increase acid production, resulting in acid reflux and GERD symptoms. The best option is not to eat at least two hours before going to bed. If you're hungry and have to eat before bedtime, it's best to avoid certain types of food like onions, french fries, full-fat dairy products, tomato sauce, potato chips, gravies, and fried pork or beef. Instead, choose alkaline foods with a higher pH like nuts or watery foods like cucumbers and watermelon.
2. Sleep on your left side
You should sleep on your left side because this sleeping position keeps food from moving back up to the esophagus. It's also the best position for pregnant women since it increases blood flow and reduces heartburn. Keeping a few extra pillows close by can also help you sleep this way; Use the pillows to create additional support for your back, legs, or arms to feel more comfortable.
3. Elevate your head
Elevating your head by at least six inches can ease the reflux and promote better breathing. This sleep position is a good way to prevent snoring and sleep apnea, which is connected with both acid reflux and GERD. Sleeping with an elevated torso can also improve digestion during the night, which should reduce GERD symptoms. You can raise your bed's head by adding several pillows or a sleep wedge to keep your head lifted. You might not have to do it every night, but just when you're experiencing acid reflux or GERD.
4. Consult a doctor if you have GERD
Consult a doctor if you have GERD because they will determine the right kind of treatment for your case. Your doctor will likely prescribe medicine to alleviate the heartburn and acid reflux. Taking over-the-counter medication may or may not help, so it's better to consult your doctor for more efficient treatment. Your doctor will determine if you're experiencing acid reflux or GERD. They will ask you about your daily habits and diet to understand why the condition occurs and when.
5. Use Medications for GERD
Use medications for GERD because it's one of the best ways of relieving severe symptoms. If the symptoms are more severe, your doctor may recommend stronger medicines like antireflux pills, which reduce acid production in your stomach. These medications must be taken for a long time, so you'll need to consult your doctor regularly. It is vital to carefully use medications for GERD and acid reflux because they can have side effects.
6. Improve your sleep hygiene
Improving your sleep hygiene should help reduce the symptoms of acid reflux and GERD. The best way to improve your sleep hygiene is to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. You should sleep in a quiet and dark environment without any electronics. Another thing you can do to improve your sleep hygiene is to avoid caffeine at least eight hours before bedtime. If you suffer from acid reflux or GERD, it's best to avoid eating before bed because this could trigger symptoms and keep you up. You should also avoid wearing tight clothes around your abdomen since it can increase the pressure on your stomach.
7. Eliminate the causes of GERD
Eliminate the causes of GERD because it's often the best way of dealing with the condition. Knowing what's causing GERD can improve your awareness and prevent certain behaviors that trigger it. Try to quit smoking and drinking alcohol before bed to reduce GERD symptoms that keep you up at night. You should also try eating smaller meals throughout the day since eating too much food at once can worsen the symptoms. Another tip is to avoid lying down after you eat because this position can lower the pressure in your abdomen and allow acid to flow into your esophagus. You should avoid eating spicy, acidic, and fatty foods to reduce GERD and acid reflux. Some medications can cause acid reflux, so make sure to consult with your doctor if that's what is causing your GERD.
8. Wait to lie down after eating
Wait to lie down after eating because eating before bed can cause acid reflux and GERD. Lying down can cause the stomach acid to flow up your esophagus, so it's important to wait at least two hours after you've eaten before going to bed. You should try not to eat a large meal before bedtime because this will increase the chances of experiencing acid reflux or GERD. If you're struggling to fall asleep after eating, try drinking some milk or eating a piece of toast. These foods can help neutralize stomach acid and reduce GERD symptoms.
9. Use Mattresses for Acid Reflux
Use mattresses for acid reflux because they can help to improve your sleep quality. If you're struggling with GERD and acid reflux, using a mattress for side sleepers can be helpful. Side sleeping is best for reducing symptoms of acid reflux, but not every bed is suitable for this sleeping position. There are special mattresses that can help to improve your sleep quality and eliminate the symptoms. By choosing the best mattress for acid reflux with a raised section in the middle, you get to sleep in a more comfortable position with your head and spine elevated. This reduces the pressure on your stomach and prevents the acid from flowing up your esophagus.
What is the Relationship between Sleep and GERD?
There is a strong relationship between sleep and GERD. Poor sleep can worsen the symptoms of GERD and vice versa. When you're not well-rested, your body is more prone to inflammation and stress, which can aggravate GERD symptoms. On the other hand, when you have GERD, it can be difficult to sleep well because your body can't fight against the acid that's refluxing from your stomach. This is why it's so important to get a good night's sleep if you're struggling with GERD.
There are a few things you can do to improve your sleep quality and reduce the symptoms of acid reflux and GERD. Improving your sleep hygiene is one of the best ways to start. Two examples of good sleep hygiene are avoiding large meals before bedtime and waiting at least two hours after you've eaten before going to sleep. Taking care of your sleep hygiene can help the GERD symptoms that stop you from getting a good night's sleep.
How does GERD Affect Sleep?
GERD can affect sleep by causing discomfort and reflux symptoms that keep you up at night. GERD can also cause pain in the chest, neck, and shoulders, making it difficult to fall asleep. Poor sleep can make GERD worse, and GERD can affect your sleep quality, which becomes a vicious cycle. It's important to break this cycle by improving your sleep hygiene and taking steps to reduce GERD symptoms.
Why is GERD Worse After Going to Bed?
GERD is worse after going to bed because the position of your body allows the stomach acid to flow up to your esophagus. When you're lying down, the pressure in your abdomen decreases, allowing the acid to flow upward. Lying down also causes the muscles in your throat to relax, which makes it easier for the acid to enter your esophagus. This is why it's important to wait at least two hours after you've eaten before going to bed. When you're upright, gravity helps to keep the acid in your stomach where it belongs.
Jill Zwarensteyn is the editor for Sleep Advisor and a certified sleep science coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.
Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.
She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.