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4 Tips to Cool Down Nocturnal Heartburn

There’s no feeling more relaxing than when you finally lay down and crawl under your warm blankets. The only thing cozier on a winter evening is a crackle and heated glow of a fireplace flickering on the other side of the bedroom. It’s another story when your nighttime heat source is a bad case of nocturnal heartburn.

We spoke with Veronika Panah, MD, a gastroenterologist at Banner Health in northern Colorado to get a few tips for dousing the flames in your chest.

1. Get gravity to work for you

Tossing and turning is a familiar feeling for people that struggle with nocturnal heartburn. Additionally, as we sleep, we stop swallowing. This means that we lose the primary esophageal contraction that keeps acid from rising out of the stomach during the day. Dr Panah suggested, “Keep the head of your bed elevated by at least 6 inches: either with an adjustable bed frame or a wedge pillow (not just propped up by an extra pillow which will flatten as the night continues). Multiple studies show that sleeping on your left side helps with digestion and helps to minimize reflux symptoms.”

2. Live a friendly food lifestyle

Food is at the center of our lives. Our calendars live and die by mealtimes and we look forward to our nightly dessert like it’s Christmas morning. So, it can be hard to cut our favorite foods from the menu. Still, if it means sleeping soundly, you’ll gladly leave a few items on the grocery store shelves. Dr. Panah recommended avoiding heavily acidic foods such as tomato, coffee and citrus. She also instructed to stay away from midnight snacks, having your last bite 2-3 hours before bed. Lastly, she warned against the famous after-dinner mint, which only serves to relax your esophageal sphincter following a heavy meal. Don’t worry, there’s still plenty left to eat.

3. Get help from the pharmacy

Over the counter (OTC) medications abound for people suffering from heartburn. Most medications counteract the overproduction of stomach acid, dropping the levels of your stomach fluids so that painful liquids are less likely to creep up the pipes.

It is important to know what medication you are looking for to treat your specific symptoms so that you do not take any unnecessary medication. In addition, some of these OTC medications can interact with other prescription medications you may be taking or may not be recommended due to certain medical or health conditions. 

Below is a list of common OTC medications that can be effective in relieving stomach disturbances based on specific symptoms.

  • Antacids provide fast relief from heartburn (i.e. calcium carbonate, magnesium hydroxide, sodium bicarbonate).
  • H2 blockers offer relief from heartburn and can also prevent heartburn. Some of these include ranitidine (Zantac), famotidine (Pepcid) and cimetidine.
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors help prevent heartburn, if it happens more than 2 times per week. Some examples are omeprazole (Prilosec), lansoprazole, and esomeprazole.

Dr. Panah warned that if you still have Ranitidine (Zantac) hiding in your medicine cabinet, you should safely dispose of the medication. Some recent studies have tied the OTC medication to cancer-producing contaminants.

Talk to your health care provider before taking these OTC medications if you are pregnant and before administering to children younger than the age of 12.

4. Go to the pros

We spend a third of our lives sleeping (at least we should!). Your sleep is precious and one of the most effective ways to improve your overall health. Sleep aside, if your nocturnal heartburn is left untreated, you could end up with more serious conditions like ulcers and even esophageal cancer. If you have tried the tips above to no avail, schedule a meeting with your physician to get your health back on track.

Some cases require more drastic solutions. Learn more about the heartburn drugs that are available and how they work to minimize your pain.

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