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What happens when people get night reflux

Acid reflux, or the symptom of heartburn, is caused when the contents of your stomach – particularly stomach acid – passes back up into your oesophagus (your food pipe). This then causes a burning sensation in your chest area.

Having acid reflux at night is common for people who regularly experience heartburn. However, when you have heartburn at night, the symptoms can often be worse than during the day. You might experience regurgitation, which is when a small amount of stomach acid makes its way all the way up to the throat. Acid reflux at night can cause coughing because of the acidic taste in your mouth.

Unsurprisingly, night acid reflux often stops people from getting a good night’s sleep. By causing people to frequently wake up or preventing them from falling asleep altogether, it can negatively impact their lives.

The bedtime habits that could be causing your night acid reflux

So what causes night reflux? Some of your night-time behaviours could be having an influence:  

Are you eating meals late at night?

Eating just before you lie down to sleep can increase the chances of reflux. When your body is reclined, it’s harder for your stomach contents to be kept down since gravity is no longer helping as much – this is also why reflux symptoms can be worse at night.

What foods are you eating at night? 

If you’re eating fried or fatty food at night, this might be promoting reflux. This is because fat takes time to digest, and can also loosen the muscles that close off the oesophagus from the stomach. Other foods which may be associated with reflux are salty food, spicy food, citrus, chocolate, and mint. 

What are you drinking at night?

Alcohol, coffee and fizzy drinks can potentially be associated with heartburn. 

Do you smoke at night?

Like fatty foods, smoking can weaken the muscles around the top of your stomach, allowing reflux to happen more easily.

Consider a new routine to help relieve night reflux

Small changes in your eating patterns can have a beneficial impact on managing your night reflux. Here are a few simple suggestions on how to help stop acid reflux at night: 

Meals: 

  • Try to eat your last meal of the day at least three hours before you plan to lie down. 
  • Avoid larger meals in favour of eating smaller meals more frequently. 
  • Aim to eat a fibre-rich diet.
  • Cut down on fatty, spicy, salty foods as well as chocolate (this one is hard, we know!)

Drinks: 

  • Avoid having excess caffeine, alcohol or fizzy drinks, especially in the evening. 
  • Try drinking fluids mostly between meals, rather than with meals.

How to sleep with heartburn at night

Did you know that lying down on your right side can increase your reflux symptoms? On the other hand, lying down on your left side can reduce your symptoms – it’s strange but true! If you prefer to sleep on your back, consider getting a foam wedge to elevate the head of your bed (unfortunately it’s not quite effective if you just prop up your pillows).

Gaviscon Dual Action might help relieve your heartburn. It works by neutralising excess stomach acid, as well as forming a protective barrier over the stomach contents to help stop it from rising. It starts to soothe from just 4 minutes* so it can be handy when you’re looking for fast relief.

Acid reflux in toddlers at night

Reflux is common in babies, though it usually improves by the time they’re one year old. If you’re worried about your baby or toddler experiencing reflux at night, it’s best to see your doctor to get some advice. They may recommend feeding smaller amounts more frequently or adding a thickener to your child’s feeds (e.g. rice cereal). For toddlers over one year old, Gaviscon Infant Powder is a possible option. It works by mixing with and stabilising the stomach contents to prevent reflux and regurgitation. If you think your child might benefit from using it, make sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist.

All information presented is not intended to diagnose or prescribe. This medicine may not be right for you. Read the label before purchase. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, see your health professional.

*Strugala V, et al. 2010 (Sponsored by RB).

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Article published January 1, 2021