Struggling to fall asleep can sometimes be linked to room temperature or seasonal changes. Yet, few sleep disruptions compare to the discomfort caused by nighttime indigestion. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) affects about 31 percent of U.S. adults weekly, where stomach contents flow back into the esophagus. While medications are often sought for relief, scientific findings suggest that adjusting sleep positions can help mitigate heartburn.
GERD arises when stomach contents reflux into the esophagus due to the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) failing to block the backflow. This condition worsens when lying down, as gravity no longer aids digestion. Shifting sleeping positions might offer some relief—instead of lying on the back or right side, resting on the left side can ease nighttime heartburn, according to the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research (CSIR).
This sleeping posture leverages human anatomy: since the esophagus is central, most of the stomach’s volume resides on the left abdomen. Lying on the left side can utilize gravity to keep stomach contents below the esophagus, reducing discomfort, as outlined by CSIR. Elevating the head area of the bed—around six inches above the ground—can provide a similar effect, preventing acid from flowing back up.
Research published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology in 2022 supports this tactic. Involving 57 chronic heartburn sufferers, the study found that sleeping on the left side notably reduced acid reflux duration compared to lying on the right side or back. This minimized tissue damage and irritation that contribute to ongoing issues.
Beyond sleep adjustments, lifestyle changes play a crucial role in managing heartburn, noted Joseph Salhab, MD, a gastroenterologist based in Florida. Activities such as walking for 30 minutes post-meal, especially before lying down, aid digestion. Chewing gum stimulates saliva production and esophageal muscle activity, preventing stomach contents from moving upwards.
Certain foods and drinks like citrus, coffee, chocolate, fizzy beverages, fried foods, and fatty meats can trigger heartburn and should be avoided. Instead, incorporating fiber, green veggies, almonds, bananas, low-fat milk, and alkaline water into your diet can reduce the risk of GERD, according to experts.