Almost everyone has to deal with heartburn — and a lot of people experience the discomfort at night in bed. There are several medicines against this problem, but you can also solve many of the issues by adjusting your living, eating, and sleeping habits.

What is heartburn exactly?

When eating, the food goes to the stomach through our esophagus. At the end of the esophagus, there is a sphincter, which opens briefly when we swallow and then closes again. Its proper functioning is important to prevent some stomach contents from accidentally flowing back to the esophagus. If that does happen, for example, due to an overcrowded stomach or malfunctioning sphincter, you will suffer from heartburn – also called acid reflux.

Heartburn is characterized by a feeling of bitterness or acidity localized in the stomach. These pains often appear after meals or when lying down. They can also occur after the ingestion of certain acidic or too fatty foods.

What are the causes of heartburns?

There are several causes of heartburn, including:

  • A malfunctioning sphincter
  • Overproduction of acidic stomach juices.
  • Increased pressure on the stomach (due, for example, to excess weight or pregnancy).
  • Irregular meals, too fatty or too filling.
  • Certain foods (spices, acidic foods, alcoholic beverages, coffee, etc.);
  • Medications, in particular those intended to fight inflammation.
  • Tobacco use.
  • Stress.

Often no cause is detectable, especially when heartburn is occasional.

Why heartburns are more frequent at night

People are more likely to suffer from stomach acid when lying in bed at night. That’s due to gravity. When you sit down or stand upright, gravity helps to make the food flow through the esophagus to the stomach. But in a lying position, this help no longer occurs, making it easier for stomach contents to leak back up.

Symptoms of heartburn

Heartburns can be manifested by:

  • a burning sensation in the breastbone and throat;
  • stomach pain;
  • acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux);
  • a bitter or sour taste in the throat and in the mouth.

Because of stomach acid, people mainly experience a painful, burning sensation behind the sternum, just above the stomach. Many suffer from regurgitation where they taste the acid. Other common symptoms include irritated throat and coughing, hoarseness, and swallowing problems.

Preventing heartburns at night

There are several anti-stomach acid medicines to combat symptoms, but you can prevent and remedy many problems by adjusting your habits, including in bed.

  • Sleep on your right side: First, it turns out it’s better to sleep on your left than on your right.
  • Sleep with your head slight higher: Also, try to make sure that the head end of your bed is 10 to 15 centimeters higher than the foot end. However, putting an extra pillow under your head is not a good solution. Wear loose clothes in bed, tight clothes can put pressure on your stomach.
  • Avoid big greasy meals at night: Eating habits are also very important. For example, experts recommend eating at least three hours before bedtime, so that your stomach has enough time to process the food before you lie down. Do not eat oversized and greasy meals in the evening.
  • Avoid certain irritants: You can also be sensitive to certain foods. Think especially of alcohol, coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, onions, garlic, peppermint, tomato products, citrus fruits and spicy, fatty and fried food.
  • Keep a diary: To find out which foods provoke symptoms, you can keep a nutrition diary.
  • Lose some weight: In general, it can help to lose weight, even a little, because being overweight increases the risk of heartburn.
  • Stop smoking: smoking can irritate the esophagus and weaken the sphincter at the end of it. 

Pregnant women are at increased risk of stomach acid and talk to their doctor if they have symptoms.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease

In itself, you don’t have to worry too much if you only occasionally suffer from heartburns. But be sure to visit your doctor if this happens regularly. Because then you may suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease or another condition. If so further treatments may be needed.

Elena Mars

Born in London, England and raised in Orlando, FL, Elena graduated from the University of Central Florida with a bachelors' degree in Health Sciences. She later received her masters' in Creative Writing  from Drexel University. She writes part-time for the Scientific Origin and focuses mostly on health related issues.