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Side Sleeping and Heartburn: What You Need to Know

Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux that can be identified by a burning or painful feeling in your chest or sour taste in the back of your throat that lasts anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.1 Lying down too soon after eating is a frequent cause of heartburn, making heartburn at night a common experience.1 If you experience heartburn when you’re lying in bed at night, your sleeping position might be at fault.1 Some research has shown that sleeping on your right side can make nighttime heartburn worse, while sleeping on your left side might help your symptoms improve.2,3

Why Is My Heartburn Worse When I Lay Down to Sleep?

Heartburn occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES)—a valve that connects your esophagus to your stomach—doesn’t fully close, permitting stomach acid to travel backward from the stomach into the esophagus.1,5 The most common symptom of heartburn is a burning sensation in the chest or behind the breastbone, but it may also cause a burning feeling in the throat, a sour taste in the back of your throat, or difficulty swallowing.1 Are you experiencing one or more of these symptoms after dinner or when you’re trying to fall asleep at night? You’re not alone. Since heartburn can be made worse by bending over or lying down, occasional nighttime heartburn is not an uncommon experience.1,5

When it comes to heartburn at night or while lying down, the biggest culprit is gravity. When you’re upright, the food in your esophagus’s journey down to your stomach is aided by gravity.2 When you lie down, gravity is no longer working in your esophagus and LES’s favor, creating a higher risk for acid reflux and heartburn.2

The Best (and Worst) Sleeping Positions for Heartburn

Because of where key digestive organs are located in the body, the side that you sleep on can impact your risk for experiencing nighttime heartburn. Research has shown that sleeping on your left side can help prevent heartburn, whereas sleeping on your right side can actually make symptoms worse.1,2,3,4 One study conducted in 2022 monitored 57 participants with chronic heartburn while they slept.3 While the position that participants slept in didn’t impact the number of times that stomach acid escaped backward into the esophagus, acid cleared the system more quickly while participants were positioned on the left side, compared to their back or right sides.3 A reduction in esophageal exposure to acid means a lower risk of experiencing heartburn symptoms.1,3,4

Tips for Avoiding Nighttime Heartburn

Sleeping on your left side instead of on your right side or back can help lower your risk of experiencing heartburn at night. However, sometimes changing sleeping positions is unavoidable. Here are a few lifestyle changes and treatment options for heartburn that, especially when coupled with sleeping on your left side, when possible, can help prevent and relieve your heartburn symptoms.

Elevate your head.

Keeping your head elevated allows gravity to do its job and helps food pass smoothly from your esophagus into your stomach.2 Try using a body pillow or sleep-positioning device or use blocks to raise the head of your bed so that your head and chest are at a higher elevation than your feet.1,2

Wait three to four hours to lie down after eating.

Eating an earlier dinner so you can avoid going to bed with a full stomach, which can help reduce your risk for nighttime heartburn. Whenever possible, give your stomach three to four hours to digest before bedtime.1

Avoid trigger foods, especially before bed.

Many people find that foods and beverages that contain onions, citrus fruits, tomatoes and tomato-based products, alcohol, or caffeine can cause symptoms of heartburn to occur.1 If you know that you have specific trigger foods, avoid eating them—especially within three to four hours of going to bed.1

Treat occasional heartburn with an antacid or dietary supplement.

Using an over-the-counter antacid or dietary supplement such as TUMS+ Heartburn+ Sleep Support can help treat your nighttime heartburn symptoms.1 Antacids and TUMS+ Heartburn + Sleep Support work by reducing the amount of acid your stomach produces, which can relieve the symptoms of heartburn.1

TUMS+ Heartburn+ Sleep Support is a dietary supplement with calcium and 5 mg of melatonin that relieves occasional heartburn and helps you fall asleep faster (compared to not taking melatonin). For the times that lifestyle changes aren’t enough, antacids and certain dietary supplements can provide the fast-acting relief you need.

Source Citations:

  1. Heartburn. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed 12/14/2022.
  2. Why Does Your Heartburn Always Seem Worse at Night? Cleveland Clinic. Accessed 12/14/2022.
  3. What’s the best sleep position to combat heartburn? Harvard Health Publishing. Accessed 12/14/2022.
  4. A Novel Sleep Positioning Device Reduces Gastroesophageal Reflux: A Randomized Controlled Trial. NIH National Library of Medicine. Accessed 12/14/2022.
  5. Heartburn: Symptoms & causes. Mayo Clinic. Accessed 12/14/2022.
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