Can Stress Cause Heartburn at Night?
Stress and anxiety impact our bodies in a number of ways.1 From causing headaches and body aches to disrupting a person’s ability to focus, stress—especially long-term stress—is not something that you should ignore.1 Stress can also cause an increase in the production of stomach acid, which can aggravate acid reflux and increase the risk of heartburn.2,3 Because the stress you experience during the day can play a role in the heartburn symptoms you experience at night, it’s important to understand what causes stress and how to manage it. Let’s explore the connection between stress and heartburn, including some tips on stress reduction to help you sleep soundly at night.
What Causes Stress?
When you experience emotional stress, your body releases hormones that make you feel alert.4 These stress hormones might raise your heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.4 Stress can be a reaction to a direct cause, or it can be something that you experience over a long period of time.4 Short-term stress can have a positive impact, such as giving you the motivation to get a task done and meet a deadline—but long-term stress can have detrimental effects on your health.4
Long-term stress can be caused by factors such as daily pressures that come from work, school, financial problems, and family issues.4 Sudden or difficult life events like the loss of a loved one, divorce, illness, or getting fired from your job can also cause long-term stress.4 Stress that results from experiencing a traumatic event such as being in a car accident or witnessing war can cause long-term stress that may be termed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).4
The Connection Between Stress and Heartburn
Short and long-term stress can make an impact on almost every aspect of your overall health, including digestion.1,4 Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux that occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES)—the valve that connects your esophagus to your stomach—doesn’t close all the way and lets acid from your stomach flow backward into your esophagus.3,5 The symptoms of heartburn can include a burning sensation in the chest, a burning feeling in the throat, an acidic or sour taste in the back of your throat, and difficulty swallowing.3 Heartburn symptoms can last between a few minutes to a few hours.3
Although studies are still ongoing, there is research that supports a connection between the gut and the brain.6 The gastrointestinal tract contains a nervous system called the enteric nervous system.6 This system consists of nerves, neurons, and neurotransmitters that extend from the esophagus all the way down through the intestines to the anus.6 The enteric nervous system uses the same type of neurons and neurotransmitters as the central nervous system, which is why it’s sometimes called the “second brain.”6 Often, the relationship between the gut and the brain is circular: Gastrointestinal issues can cause stress and anxiety, and stress and anxiety can also cause gastrointestinal issues, including heartburn.7 Studies have shown that heartburn symptoms increase with the exposure to prolonged stress.2,8 The specific cause of these stress-induced heartburn symptoms may be increased levels and frequency of esophageal acid exposure, the stomach’s inability to empty acid, or stress-induced hypersensitivity.2,8
Tips on Managing Stress
If you’re experiencing after a late night from the stress that you experience during the day, you can try managing your symptoms with any of the following stress relief and prevention techniques:4
- Try deep breathing and meditation techniques
- Exercise regularly, even if it’s just a short walk every day
- Reduce the amount of caffeine you consume
- Make sure you’re getting enough rest at night
- Do muscle relaxation exercises
- Prioritize important tasks and commitments
- Reach out to friends and family for support
If you’re experiencing severe symptoms of stress, talk to your doctor or mental health provider about ways to get additional support.4
TUMS+ Heartburn + Sleep Support is a dietary supplement with 5 mg of melatonin that relieves occasional heartburn and helps you fall asleep faster. If you’re experiencing nighttime heartburn that’s caused by stress, try TUMS products to get the fast-acting relief you need.
- Stress and your health. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003211.htm. Accessed 12/14/2022.
- Could stress be making my acid reflux worse? Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/could-stress-be-making-my-acid-reflux-worse. Accessed 12/14/2022.
- Heartburn. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9617-heartburn-overview. Accessed 12/14/2022.
- Stress. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/stress.html. Accessed 12/14/2022.
- Heartburn: Symptoms & causes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/symptoms-causes/syc-20373223. Accessed 12/14/2022.
- Gut-Brain Connection. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/16358-gut-brain-connection. Accessed 12/14/2022.
- The gut-brain connection. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection. Accessed 12/14/2022.