According to Dr. Jan P. Kaminski, MD, the director of clinical programs for rectal cancer and inflammatory bowel disease at the Digestive Health Institute, heartburn (when stomach acid juices back up into the food pipe, mouth, or lungs) typically feels like a burning in the chest or a bitter or acidic taste in the mouth.
I don’t need anything else keeping me up at night – Instagram and TikTok do a great job as it is. So, when nighttime heartburn gets thrown into the mix, it’s frustrating.
You can also experience chest pain, difficulty swallowing, chronic cough, asthma, nausea, bloating, belching, and pain in the upper part of the abdomen from heartburn, he added.
These symptoms might ring a bell to you. Dr. Kaminski said that heartburn at night is relatively common – some causes include obesity, overeating, pregnancy, and lying down or going to sleep after a meal.
“Commonly, people feel tired after eating a large meal and lay down for a nap, or go to sleep for the night right after eating, which can also worsen symptoms of heartburn,” Dr. Kaminski said.
Certain foods are more likely to trigger heartburn over others, too, like spicy foods, onions, citrus products, tomato products, fatty or fried foods, peppermint, chocolate, alcohol, carbonated beverages, coffee or other caffeinated beverages, and large or fatty meals, he added.
While you should always contact your doctor over heartburn concerns, there are some precautions you can take at home in the meantime that can hopefully help you feel better.
“Raising the head of the bed with a triangular block under the mattress can help to decrease the risk of heartburn, as gravity helps to keep the acid in the stomach,” Dr. Kaminski said. “Typically, adding pillows is not enough.”
Waiting to lay down at least three hours after a meal can give your food more time to properly digest, too, he continued.
Heartburn-triggering foods tend to loosen the muscles that connect the stomach to the food pipe, allowing acid into the stomach – that’s why Dr. Kaminski suggested avoiding the foods he listed above.
Talking to your doctor about certain medications such as antacids, H-2-receptor antagonists, and proton pump inhibitors can also help with heartburn by reducing or neutralizing stomach acid, he noted.
And when heartburn persists, try not to compensate by increased swallowing. Dr. Kaminski admitted that while saliva can neutralize the backed-up acid and help decrease pain, the more one swallows, the more air is ingested into the stomach, causing more distension and backup.
“Treating heartburn early is best, as long-term heartburn can create complications such as erosive esophagitis, stricture, and Barrett’s esophagus. Sometimes, with these complications, surgery may be necessary. However, if we can treat heartburn early, it can prevent these complications from occurring, which in turn can prevent people from having surgery.”
Again, if you’re experiencing heartburn – especially more than twice a week, despite medications – in addition to difficulty swallowing, chest pain that radiates to the arms or jaw, persistent nausea or vomiting, or unintended weight loss, Dr. Kaminski suggested that you contact your doctor for medical help.