How to Stop Reflux While Sleeping

Acid reflux, also called gastroesophageal reflux disease, is the third most common gastrointestinal disorder in the United States. Symptoms can worsen while you are sleeping and cause you to wake up coughing or choking. Because acid reflux is so disruptive, it’s essential to understand how you can treat it at bedtime.

A Little Background

As you eat, food travels from the mouth to the stomach through the esophagus. Acid reflux occurs when the esophageal sphincter located on the bottom of the esophagus doesn’t close properly. As a result, food, stomach acid and liquid can travel back up into the esophagus and trigger reflux. Symptoms can include burning in the chest, wheezing, soreness of the throat, hiccups and regurgitation of food. If left untreated, acid reflux can cause damage to the esophagus.

Pop a Pill

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Take an over-the-counter antacid right before you lie down at bedtime. Antacids work by neutralizing the stomach acid that causes reflux. Although antacids are not long-lasting, they work almost instantly. You can also take a proton pump inhibitor medication like lansoprazole and esomeprazole, which decreases acid production in your stomach. H2 blocker medications such as ranitidine or famotidine are also helpful because they lower the amount of acid released into your stomach. Your doctor can also prescribe a stronger prescription medication to take before bed.

Add a Little Wedge

Prop yourself up while you sleep. Slightly elevating your upper body can quickly stop or reduce acid reflux symptoms. A 2006 study published in the "Archives of Internal Medicine" found that propping yourself up while sleeping can even prevent future acid reflux episodes. Prop yourself up by positioning a few pillows behind you or by using a wedge pillow. You can also place a few cinder blocks under the head posts of your bed to add elevation.

Seek Comfort

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Do not wear tight-fitting pajamas that can push on your stomach while you are sleeping and cause acid reflux. Do not eat right before bedtime. If you do eat, sit up for a couple of hours so that your food has a chance to digest before you go to sleep. Fatty foods, chocolate, onions and tomatoes can sometimes trigger reflux. Temporarily avoid these foods at bedtime to determine if they are the cause of your symptoms. Being overweight can also worsen acid reflux. If you are overweight, loosing even 5 percent of your body weight by eating healthy and exercising can improve symptoms. Do not sleep on your right side, as this can aggravate acid reflux. Instead, sleep on your left side, which can help relax the lower sphincter muscle and reduce symptoms.