June 10, 2021 5 min read

Quality sleep is essential to maintaining your general health and wellness, but it’s not always easy to achieve. From fluctuations in temperature and noise to stress-related tossing and turning, there are plenty of distractions that can get in the way of a good night’s sleep. And if you deal with acid reflux and have ever woken up choking on acid reflux while sleeping, you’re very familiar with the subject.

In this post, we’ll discuss acid reflux in a general context, explain why you might have experienced choking on acid while sleeping, and provide some tips to help you improve the quality of your sleep. Read on for a complete overview, or use the links below to navigate throughout the article.

  1. Avoid eating late
  2. Steer clear of trigger foods
  3. Wear loose-fitting clothing
  4. Sleep on your left side
  5. Manage acid reflux throughout the day

What is Acid Reflux and Why Does it Happen?

Before we talk about how acid reflux symptoms can flare up at night, disturbing your sleep, let’s start with a basic definition of acid reflux.

Acid reflux is a condition that occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES)—a muscle between the stomach and esophagus—malfunctions, allowing stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus. This can cause a burning sensation in your heart and chest, which we often refer to as “heartburn.” Over time, prolonged acid reflux can cause damage to the esophagus and potentially lead to the chronic form of the condition called GERD.

Acid reflux happens due to improper functioning of the LES, but it can flare up due to a number of factors, including these common acid reflux triggers:

  • Diet—acidic, fatty, and spicy foods are common offenders
  • Weight
  • Sleeping posture
  • Stomach abnormalities
  • Pregnancy
  • Stress
  • Smoking
  • Genetics

Additionally, acid reflux can be triggered after a large meal, lying down after eating, or even wearing clothing that’s too tight. While it can onset any time of day, many experience worsened acid reflux acid reflux at night.

Choking on gerd while sleeping

Why Does Acid Reflux Oftentimes Occur at Night?

If you’ve ever been awakened by a burning sensation or choking in your sleep, chances are, you’re dealing with nighttime acid reflux. For many, acid reflux symptoms intensify at night, specifically during sleep, because you’re lying down. Here’s why:

When you’re standing upright, gravity and saliva help keep acid in your stomach where it belongs, but when you lie down, gravity is no longer there to prevent stomach acid from flowing into your esophagus. This, in combination with less frequent swallowing, can make it more difficult for your body to return reflux back to your stomach. And as reflux lingers in the esophagus, heartburn and other acid reflux symptoms become more apparent. This is why you may have choked on acid reflux when sleeping.

Ways to Improve Your Sleep With Acid Reflux

Waking up choking on stomach acid can be detrimental to the quality of your sleep and general wellness. The good news is, there are ways to mitigate your symptoms and improve your sleep as a result. In this section, we’ll show you how to sleep with acid reflux and discuss some treatment methods that can help you manage your symptoms not just at night, but all day long.

Choking on acid reflux - tip 1

1. Avoid eating late

As we discussed earlier on in this post, one of the reasons you may be waking up choking on acid is because of the lack of gravity and saliva that helps your stomach retain acid while you’re standing or sitting upright. When you lie down, those factors no longer come into play, making it easier for acid to reflux into your esophagus.

One way to combat acid reflux choking at night is to avoid eating late at night. In fact, the Mayo Clinic suggests giving your body three hours to digest before going to bed. When you give your stomach more time to digest and empty its contents, there’s less stomach acid to reflux when it’s time for bed.

2. Steer clear of trigger foods

Diet is one of the most common triggers of acid reflux, but it can also serve as a way to help mitigate your symptoms. Let’s take a look at some of the foods to avoid and ingredients that work well with the GERD diet.

Avoid:

  • Fast food
  • Fried food
  • Processed snacks, such as potato chips
  • Pizza
  • Spicy foods and ingredients such as chili powder, white pepper, and cayenne
  • Cheese
  • Tomato-based foods
  • Citrus
  • Peppermint
  • Chocolate
  • Carbonated beverages

Choking on acid reflux - tip 2

Incorporate:

  • Alkaline foods such as melon, cauliflower, nuts, bananas
  • High-fiber foods like whole grains, green veggies, and root vegetables
  • Watery foods, including watermelon, cucumber, and celery
  • Non-citrus fruits such as apples, pears, and melon
  • Leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, and collard greens
  • Complex carbs like potatoes, rice, and whole grains
  • Healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, peanut butter, seeds, tofu, and salmon
  • Lean proteins, including eggs and grilled meats

Choking on acid reflux - tip 3

3. Wear loose-fitting clothing

Being overweight or pregnant can also contribute to acid reflux flare-ups; when excess pressure is put on the abdomen, acid may be forced through the LES and into your esophagus, resulting in heartburn and other associated symptoms. Wearing tight-fitting clothing, especially near your abdomen, can cause a similar effect. Wearing looser clothing at night or throughout your day is a simple way to prevent heartburn and acid reflux.

Choking on acid reflux - tip 4

4. Sleep on your left side

Sleeping with acid reflux can be uncomfortable, especially if you’re waking up choking on acid. Thankfully, there’s a physician-recommended and clinically proven solution: sleep on your left side. Even better, sleep on your left side at an incline. Here’s why.

As we discussed, gravity plays an important role in acid reflux management—it helps keep acid from refluxing by keeping it in the stomach until it’s dissolved. However, when you lie down, gravity can no longer assist, which is why elevating your torso while you sleep can be effective. Likewise, the natural curvature of your esophagus is in a better position to suppress acid when you’re lying on your left side than on your right. When combined, this posture can improve acid reflux symptoms at night, and as a result, reduce the likelihood that you’ll end up choking on acid reflux while sleeping. But how do you achieve this position in a comfortable, effective way?

Meet MedCline’s Reflux Relief System, a clinically proven device designed to minimize nighttime heartburn and improve the quality and comfort of your sleep. Our three-part system uses a therapeutic body pillow, insert pillow, and an advanced positioning wedge, to mimic the physician-recommended posture for sleeping with acid reflux, offering natural relief from symptoms.

Not only has our patented product been clinically proven in seven studies, but 93% of our users report a reduction in nighttime acid reflux. View our FAQ page to learn more about how MedCline works, FSA/HSA plan coverage, and more. 

5. Manage acid reflux throughout the day

Managing your acid reflux comes down to consistent treatment and careful planning with the help of your doctor. In addition to using the above suggestions, it’s a good idea to implement friendly habits throughout the day in order to experience total relief.

If you experience persistent symptoms, talk to your doctor about:

Takeaways

If you wake up choking on stomach acid, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with a greater issue related to acid reflux, which can be monitored with the support of your primary care doctor. To start mitigating symptoms at night, heed these five tips:

  1. Avoid eating late at night or right before bedtime
  2. Stay away from trigger foods
  3. Wear loose-fitting clothes to reduce pressure on your abdomen
  4. Sleep on your left side at an incline
  5. Manage your acid reflux throughout the day

Want to learn more about how our Reflux Relief System can help you sleep reflux-free? Talk to a Sleep Specialist today!