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The Best Ways to Sleep to Avoid Heartburn, Science Says

Resting in this position could help you avoid uncomfortable indigestion at night.

Having a hard time falling asleep can often be blamed on things like the temperature in your room or even what time of year it happens to be. But when it comes to serious slumber setbacks, very few things can match the discomfort caused by nighttime indigestion. The painful condition is relatively common, with roughly 31 percent of adults in the U.S. experiencing the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) at least once a week, according to a 2019 study. But while many people turn to medication for relief, science says that there are ways you can sleep to avoid heartburn.

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According to the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research (CSIR), GERD is caused by the contents of the stomach flowing back into the esophagus. A muscle known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) normally works to keep food and digestive acids from creeping back up by closing shut once items have been swallowed. However, this muscle can sometimes fail to hold everything back—and can be made even worse when we lie down and gravity no longer helps our digestive system.

But if you're suffering through a night of painful symptoms, simply shifting your position could help bring some relief. Instead of lying on your back or your right side, flipping over and resting on your left side can help ease heartburn while sleeping, according to CSIR.

The effectiveness is thanks to human anatomy. While the esophagus runs down the middle of the body, much of the volume of the stomach is on the left side of the abdomen. By lying on your left side, gravity can help keep the contents of your stomach below the esophagus and prevent painful symptoms, per CSIR. For the same reason, propping the head area of the bed up by about six inches from the ground or below the mattress—and not just stacking pillows—can have a similar effect.

Previous research has also found this simple trick to be fairly effective. In a study published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology in 2022, 57 participants with chronic heartburn were observed while sleeping to determine if shifting positions could help the condition. While all participants still had acid flow back into their esophagus, results found that those who slept on their left side compared to their right side or back had it clear much faster, reducing agitation and tissue damage that can contribute to ongoing problems.

And even though simple sleep changes could help alleviate symptoms, experts say there are also other ways you can potentially avoid heartburn.

"While we're still learning about the long-term effects [of medication], it's clear that making lifestyle changes is key to managing heartburn and acid reflux," Joseph Salhab, MD, a Florida-based gastroenterologist, told Newsweek.

Taking a walk after eating for about half an hour can help aid in digestion—especially before lying down. Chewing a piece of gum can stimulate saliva production and stimulate muscles in the esophagus to help keep stomach contents in place, according to Salhab.

You can also avoid certain foods and beverages that can trigger heartburn, including citrus, coffee, chocolate, carbonated drinks, fried foods, and fatty meats. Instead, try incorporating more fiber, green vegetables, almonds, bananas, low-fat milk, and alkaline water into your diet to reduce GERD risk.

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Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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