Sleep Disturbance and Acid Reflux - dummies

By Patricia Raymond, Michelle Beaver

One of the most common complaints doctors hear from patients with acid reflux is that it messes with their sleep. Whether they toss and turn and can’t fall asleep, or wake up with pain in the middle of the night, acid reflux can be a nightmare. In fact, most people complain that their heartburn or other acid-reflux symptoms are worse at night, especially right before bedtime.

This makes sense for several reasons. For starters, most people tend to make dinner their biggest meal of the day. Large meals stretch the stomach too much and put more pressure on the LES, often leading to heartburn.

Second, you are more likely to lean back or lie down after dinner than at other meals. Remove gravity from the mix, and it’s easier for acid to shoot up into the esophagus. Because most people lie down to sleep, this is a recipe for discomfort.

Having your sleep interrupted occasionally may not seem like a big deal, but it can actually have a tremendous impact on your overall happiness and health. Study after study has shown that sleep deprivation leads to irritability, increased stress, and difficulty concentrating. A few missed nights of sleep can quickly lead to problems at work and in personal relationships, and a lack of sleep can also affect physical health.

Studies have shown that failing to get enough sleep (around eight hours a night) can lead to a variety of health risks including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, headaches, depression, and in severe cases, even death.

But don’t freak out — there are several steps you can take to minimize the impact reflux has on your sleep patterns:

  • Avoid lying down for at least two hours after you eat. This will give your stomach more time to digest your meal, and make it less likely that stomach acid will enter your esophagus.

  • Try to make dinner one of the smallest meals of the day. This will speed stomach emptying and decrease the amount of pressure on your LES. Limit your fat content at that meal, too — fat slows the emptying of the stomach and can lead to increased reflux.

  • Elevate the head of your bed, use a foam bed wedge, or prop a few pillows under your shoulders and down to your hips to incline your body when you go to sleep.

  • Wear loose-fitting clothes to bed. This will reduce the pressure on your stomach.

  • Sleep on your left side. Studies have shown that sleeping on the left side helps with gastric emptying. Many reflux patients have found that this also reduces the frequency and severity of nighttime reflux attacks.