Think Twice: Lie Down to Prevent Heartburn
If acid reflux is getting you down, your best solution is to stay standing up. Lying down after you eat is the last thing you want to do when trying to avoid heartburn. Why? Acid reflux occurs when digestive acid escapes the stomach and spills into the esophagus (the tunnel that connects the stomach and throat), where it can cause heartburn and tissue damage. When you stay upright, your digestive juices have to flow uphill to reach your chest and throat. But when you lie down, it’s a straight shot—no gravity involved. To keep acid reflux at bay, try to remain standing or sitting for two to three hours after each meal, and avoid eating before bed. If the urge for an after-dinner doze does strike, sleep sitting up or with your head and chest elevated.
When you eat food, its first stop is your stomach, where digestive acid begins to break it down. This is usually when people experience acid reflux. Because the stomach is full, its contents can sometimes back up into the esophagus. If you are standing or sitting upright, those digestive juices have to scale walls to get into your esophagus, which means the chances of heartburn are much lower. When you lie down, however, it’s like tipping over a glass of water—your stomach acid is in a state of free flow, and can seep into your esophagus and possibly even your throat.
That’s also why many people get acid reflux when they try to sleep after eating. The easiest antidote to nighttime acid reflux is to avoid meals and heavy snacks up to three hours before bedtime. If the land of nod beckons after a big meal, just be sure to keep your head and chest elevated. That way, gravity is still working in your favor. Rest in a comfy chair (don’t recline too far) or elevate the head of your bed by six inches. You can insert a wedge under the mattress or place blocks under your bed’s head posts.
Staying upright may not prevent every case of heartburn. If you’re still experiencing symptoms, eat smaller meals, avoid clothing that’s tight around the middle, maintain a healthy weight and avoid problematic foods and drinks. Different people may need to avoid different foods, but common triggers include caffeine, garlic, alcohol and fried or fatty foods. Keeping a journal can help you identify which foods cause the most distress. If you smoke, quitting can also help.
If you experience acid reflux often, speak to your doctor. You may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can lead to serious conditions in the esophagus, even cancer. There are medications available to help GERD symptoms, and your doctor can determine if those are the best treatment for you.
Bottom Line: Chin up. You can prevent many cases of acid reflux by staying upright for two or three hours after you eat. Lying down after eating is far more likely to cause heartburn than prevent it.