If experiencing heartburn at night makes it difficult for you to get a good night’s sleep, you’re not alone. Millions of people across the country suffer from the very same thing – and it turns out, there are several ways to address the burning pain in your stomach at night. And once you do, you can finally get the rest you need.
Heartburn is one of the more common symptoms of a condition known as acid reflux. It results in a burning sensation in the upper abdomen, chest cavity, or throat. Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid moves up into the esophagus (the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach).
Your esophageal sphincter closes and opens the area between your stomach and esophagus.
If this muscle isn’t working the way it should, acidic juices start to back up.
When they reach your esophagus, they can cause a sore throat and other problems.1
As many as 20% of adults in the United States have some degree of acid reflux.2 Other symptoms associated with acid reflux include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- An acidic taste in the mouth
- Sinus pressure or discomfort3
Why Do I Get a Burning Pain in the Chest at Night?
The reason that burning chest pain from reflux tends to be worse at night involves gravity. When you’re standing or sitting, gravity allows food to move where it belongs – into your stomach. When you lie down, you lose the help that gravity provides. As a result, stomach acid may enter your esophagus, leading to a burning sensation in your chest.4
Risk Factors For Heartburn at Night
If acid moves into your esophagus when you’re in bed, you may find falling asleep very difficult. And when you can’t sleep at night, you’ll no doubt be dealing with drowsiness during the day. It’s a vicious cycle.
Why does this happen? Doctors aren’t exactly sure why the esophageal sphincter muscle becomes compromised. One contributing factor for some people may be a hiatal hernia. This occurs when a part of the stomach moves upward into the chest.5
Several factors could play a role in either contributing to heartburn at night or making it worse. These factors can include:
- Consuming a large meal
- Eating certain “triggering” foods (garlic, citrus foods, spicy foods, or tomato-based foods may be to blame)
- Eating before you go to bed
- Drinking alcohol, sodas, and citrus juices
- Being overweight6
Sleep Apnea and Acid in the Esophagus
Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when breathing is interrupted during sleep several times a night. The muscles in the back of your throat can’t keep your airway open, leading to continual pauses in breathing.7 There is evidence of a link between obstructive sleep apnea and the movement of stomach acid into the esophagus.
According to one study, 60% of people with obstructive sleep apnea have the problem of acid moving into their esophagus. Sleep apnea may contribute to the relaxation of the esophageal sphincter. This can cause gastric juices to move up into the chest and throat.8
Does Alcohol at Night Lead to Stomach Problems?
Alcohol can contribute to nighttime stomach problems. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol before bed could lead to something alcoholic gastritis. Heartburn or an upset stomach after drinking is common with this condition.
Consuming too much alcohol regularly can irritate or even weaken your stomach lining. When the lining weakens, the acidity of stomach juices can erode it even further. This could lead to sore throat, vomiting, and esophageal damage.9
How Do I Reduce Upper Abdomen Discomfort at Night?
Another thing you can try is to avoid eating fatty or fried foods before bed. As a rule, try to stop eating at least three hours before bedtime. If you lay down too soon after eating, the sphincter muscle at the end of the esophagus might not work properly.
Speaking of food – being overweight is another risk factor for acid indigestion. Excess body weight can lead to pain in your stomach that makes it hard to sleep, and it might put more pressure on your abdomen. This could cause digestive juices in your stomach to travel up into your esophagus.10
Other Ways to Reduce Reflux Symptoms
Here are a few other things you can try that might reduce your abdominal pain at night.
A Low-Carb Diet
Following a diet low in carbohydrates may help reduce acid reflux symptoms. Scientists are still researching whether this is a viable option – but some experts believe that going low-carb might help fight acidity in your stomach.11
Reduce Your Coffee Intake
If you like your cup of joe on a regular basis, this might not be good news. Coffee is often considered a risk factor for acid reflux because it can weaken the esophageal sphincter.12 On the bright side, decaffeinated coffee appears to cause fewer symptoms. So, reach for that cup of decaf instead, especially at night.13
Chew More Gum
Chewing sugar-free gum could help to reduce esophageal acidity.14 Gum containing bicarbonate may be more effective in reducing heartburn symptoms.15
Limit Your Intake of Carbonated Beverages
If you experience pain or discomfort in your stomach at night, soda may be part of the problem. Studies suggest that drinking carbonated beverages may actually increase the risk of reflux symptoms AND weaken the esophageal sphincter.16,17
Lighten Up on Citrus Juices
You might want to curb your morning glass of orange juice. In one study, more than 70% of reflux patients had worsening reflux symptoms after drinking orange juice or grapefruit juice.18
Limit Your Chocolate Intake
Say it isn’t so! Eating chocolate may also contribute to stomach pain due to reflux. Consuming just four ounces of chocolate syrup could weaken the esophageal sphincter.19
Another study compared the effect of chocolate on acidity in the esophagus. One group of participants drank a beverage with chocolate in it, while the others drank a placebo. You guessed it – those who had the chocolate beverage had more acid in their esophagus than the other group.20
Change the Way You Sleep
Do you sleep on your right side? If you’re dealing with a sore throat or other symptoms of esophageal reflux, try switching sides. Several studies indicate that sleeping on your right side might worsen reflux symptoms.21
Is Apple Cider Vinegar a Treatment for Heartburn?
If you’re looking for a way to naturally soothe heartburn symptoms, home remedies might help. Apple cider vinegar, for example, has long been touted as a natural remedy for heartburn. Although there isn’t any scientific research to back up this claim, many people vouch for its naturally soothing qualities.22
Talk to Your Doctor About Heartburn at Night
If you suffer from heartburn at night on a regular basis, be sure to speak with your doctor about this problem. He or she can help you with medications, lifestyle changes, or a mixture of both. That way, you can reduce that troublesome stomach acid that’s keeping you up at night. Finally, you’ll be able to get some peaceful sleep!
Learn More About Heartburn:
Natural Remedies to Help With Heartburn During Pregnancy
Baking Soda for Heartburn: Effectiveness and Precautions
How the GI Tract Works (And What Happens When Heartburn Occurs)