How do sleep and rest patterns affect GERD?

By: Elizabeth Scherer

Most people don't realize that GERD can do its greatest damage at night when you're lying in bed. Read on to learn why.

In order for your esophagus to clear acid, it must be able to empty effectively. You also need saliva to neutralize the acid that remains in the esophagus.

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When you are asleep, you produce very little saliva. So you have lost an important method of clearing reflux. In addition, your esophagus' ability to clear acid slows during sleep. Why? Because when you're lying down, there's no gravity to help acid drain back into the stomach. Finally, when you sleep, you don't swallow as often. This leaves acid in your esophagus longer, where it can do more damage.

How to Reduce GERD at Night

Take these actions at night to prevent or lessen GERD symptoms and the damage they may cause.

Elevate the head of your bed. You may choose between two methods for doing this:

  • Use 6-inch blocks or put bricks under each leg at the head of the bed.
  • Buy a 6-inch wedge pillow to replace your normal pillows, especially if you have a water bed.

Don't just stack up regular pillows because they may roll off or shift while you sleep. They also force your body to bend in the middle, which can increase pressure on your stomach.

Avoid eating too close to bedtime. There's no question that life is busier than ever these days, but getting home late from the office and eating a large meal, or snacking just before bedtime, can be a major source of discomfort if you have GERD.

  • Overeating is thought to play a role in GERD. Large meals increase your stomach's contents and slow the time it takes for contents to move into your intestine. This increases your risk of reflux.
  • Lying down, bending over, stooping, or squatting within 2 to 3 hours of eating may block your esophagus' ability to clear the reflux that commonly occurs after a meal. The extra pressure on your abdomen may also reduce the lower esophageal sphincter's ability to stay closed.

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