March 09, 2020 7 min read

Occasional acid reflux is a common occurrence—at some point or another, everyone experiences it. But if you suffer from frequent acid reflux, you may have to face unexpected challenges. For example, you might find yourself asking, “Why do I feel worse after a nap?”

For some people, acid reflux symptoms can intensify when they lie down to go to sleep, whether they’re curled up in bed for the night or on the couch for a midday nap. You may wake up to an upset stomach after your nap or notice a bitter, sour taste in the back of your throat. And while these issues are worth attending to, the real danger is what’s happening inside your esophagus while you nap. 

So how do you stop waking up with heartburn? In this article, we’ll discuss why acid reflux and heartburn occur, the reason it can be worse while you sleep, and steps you can take to live reflux-free, both at night and during the daytime. For an in-depth look at the relationship between napping and acid reflux, continue reading. Or, if a particular section sticks out to you, skip to it by clicking on one of the links below.

What is Acid Reflux? 

Acid reflux and heartburn occur when your stomach’s acidic contents seep into your esophagus. Unlike stomach lining, which has the capacity to handle stomach acid without being damaged, your esophageal lining is more sensitive and not equipped to handle acidic contents that surge up from the stomach. 


Typically, acid reflux and heartburn are caused by a malfunctioning of your lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is a clump of muscles separating the stomach from the esophagus. When functioning properly, the LES opens up to allow food to pass from your esophagus into your stomach and then closes to prevent reflux. Acid reflux tends to occur when your LES doesn’t close tightly enough, thus allowing the contents of your stomach to enter your esophagus.

Oftentimes, a burning pain in the chest accompanies acid reflux. This is known as heartburn, and it’s a result of your esophageal lining being irritated or damaged by acidic contents that have surged up from the stomach. If you experience acid reflux or heartburn from time to time, it’s usually not cause for concern—in fact, more than 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month. But if you experience acid reflux or heartburn symptoms on a regular basis, it may be a sign of a more serious condition.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disease characterized by frequent acid reflux. If you experience acid reflux twice a week or more, then you may have GERD. Some of the most common GERD symptoms include:

  • Heartburn
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Regurgitation of food or sour taste in your throat
  • Feeling of a lump stuck in your throat

Why is Acid Reflux Worse When Sleeping? 

During the daytime, you’re typically standing or sitting up and this can work in your favor when it comes to acid reflux. Why? Because when you experience acid reflux in an upright position, gravity typically prevents your stomach’s acidic contents from staying in your esophagus for too long. Additionally, your saliva helps the stomach acid return to where it belongs. 

 

When you experience acid reflux at night, on the other hand, gravity and saliva don’t benefit you as much. When you lie down, it’s easier for stomach acid to seep into your esophagus and stay there for longer periods of time. Plus, you don’t produce as much saliva or swallow as often when you’re asleep versus when you’re awake. This means that, for some people, acid reflux and GERD symptoms may be more intense at night than during the day, and possibly more damaging in the long-term. 

Napping and Acid Reflux  

Who doesn’t like to take a good cat nap in the middle of the day? GERD sufferers, perhaps. Acid reflux and naps often don’t mix well together. A study published in the Clinical Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that acid reflux during naps tends to be worse than when sleeping during the night. The study found three strikes against naps for GERD sufferers:

Strike #1: The number of reflux episodes is significantly higher during naps vs sleeping at night.

Strike #2: The duration of reflux episodes is higher during naps.

Strike #3: Acid lingers in esophagus longer during naps.

Some researchers attribute the severity of acid reflux during naps to two things. First, naps are generally associated with shallow sleep, and this makes one more vulnerable to experiencing acid reflux. Second, many people like to take midday naps directly after eating a meal which may make them feel tired or drowsy, and when you lie down it’s easier for this undigested food to make its way into your esophagus. 

How to Nap with Acid Reflux 

Naps are a great way to recharge and give your health a boost. In fact, one study reported that a nap of 30 minutes or less during the day promotes wakefulness, enhances performance, and boosts learning ability. So don’t give them up just yet!

Here are some tips to help you take better naps:

  • Don’t eat too soon before napping. Give your food time to fully digest before lying down. 
  • Eat a lighter meal before your nap. 
  • Wear loose clothes so you don’t constrict your mid-section.

Sleeping Positions for Heartburn

Whether you’re heading to bed at night or taking a midday nap, you can potentially reduce acid reflux symptoms while getting your much-needed rest when you sleep in the right position. Avoid sleeping on your stomach; instead, sleep at an incline on your left side for the best results. 

Sleeping with your upper body on an incline enables gravity to do its job and keep your stomach’s acidic contents out of your esophagus, while sleeping on your left side helps keep your LES elevated above your stomach’s gastric contents. 

To stay in the doctor-recommended position for reflux relief while you nap, try the MedCline Reflux Relief System. MedCline will keep you in the ideal inclined side sleeping position so you can reap the many health benefits of napping without having to worry about nighttime acid reflux. Our comfortable three-component system has been proven to reduce exposure to harmful stomach acid 87% better than your average wedge pillow. Get the sleep you want and need when you use MedCline. 

Other Ways to Manage Acid Reflux & Heartburn 

While the methods described above can help you manage nighttime acid reflux, there are other ways to manage symptoms on a day-to-day basis. In this section, we’ll talk about how to prevent acid reflux by taking medications, changing your eating habits, and implementing lifestyle changes.

Medication

There are a variety of over-the-counter medications available for acid reflux and heartburn. These medications reduce symptoms by either reducing the amount of acid your stomach produces or neutralizing stomach acid. Some of the most common acid reflux medications include:

  • Antacids
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)
  • H2-receptor blockers

If you take any of these medications and they don’t prove effective in your case, speak with your doctor. A doctor can prescribe you prescription-strength versions of these medications or advise you on an alternative course of treatment. 

Dietary Habits

Watching what you eat can be a great home remedy for heartburn, and an effective way to naturally avoid the worst symptoms of GERD. Certain foods can increase the frequency and intensity of acid reflux flare-ups, while other foods tend to be more accommodating to acid reflux sufferers. To prevent acid reflux, try to avoid the following foods and drinks:

  • Fatty or fried foods
  • Tomato-based sauces
  • Alcohol 
  • Chocolate
  • Mint 
  • Garlic
  • Onion 
  • Caffeine 

To minimize your chances of experiencing acid reflux, it’s best to eat smaller meals. In case you do want a snack during the day, here are some foods that are unlikely to spark an episode of acid reflux or heartburn:

  • Non-citrus fruit 
  • Non-fat yogurt
  • Jell-O
  • Non-fat ready-made pudding
  • Vegetables 

Lifestyle Changes 

Some simple lifestyle changes can help prevent acid reflux and heartburn. For instance, you may be able to reduce symptoms when you:

  • Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly
  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothes 
  • Limit your alcohol consumption

Takeaways

While many people experience acid reflux every once in a while, persistent acid reflux can lead to serious health conditions, negatively affect your quality of life, and interfere with your sleep. That’s why it’s important to take steps to address your acid reflux symptoms—so you can maintain your health and ensure you get the rest you need. 

If you ask yourself, “Why do I feel worse after a nap?” you may be experiencing acid reflux while you sleep. To prevent yourself from having an upset stomach after a nap, try sleeping with MedCline’s Reflux Relief System. It’s the clinically-proven acid reflux pillow that’s just as comfortable as it is effective. Don’t wait to get a better night’s sleep—speak with one of our Sleep Specialists today to see how we can help! 

References:

  1. “Acid Reflux.” American College of Gastroenterology, gi.org/topics/acid-reflux/. 
  2. Dhand, Rajiv, and Harjyot Sohal. “Good Sleep, Bad Sleep! The Role of Daytime Naps in Healthy Adults.” Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nov. 2006, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17053484/. 
  3. Fass, Ronnie. “Sleep & GERD.” About GERD, International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, 19 Sept. 2019, www.aboutgerd.org/sleep-gerd.html. 
  4. “Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 22 May 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gerd/symptoms-causes/syc-20361940. 
  5. “Mid Afternoon Snacks for Heartburn Sufferers.” Houston Heartburn and Reflux Center, houstonheartburn.com/mid-afternoon-snacks-for-heartburn-sufferers/. 
  6. Nasrollah, Laya, et al. “Naps Are Associated More Commonly With Gastroesophageal Reflux, Compared With Nocturnal Sleep.” Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, American Gastroenterological Association, 1 Jan. 2015, www.cghjournal.org/article/S1542-3565(14)00800-3/abstract.