Nine ways to avoid heartburn at night

Are you sick (literally!) of tossing and turning at night with painful heartburn? Here are nine tips to avoid it from leading London nutritionist Lily Soutter.

Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux, and is one of the frustrating conditions that can contribute to sleepless nights.

As many as four out of five people who suffer with regular heartburn report disrupted sleep. Symptoms include a burning or hot sensation within the chest, nausea, difficulty swallowing and even regurgitation, all of which can worsen at night due to lying down.

Fortunately, some simple dietary tweaks may minimise symptoms allowing for a more restful nights sleep. Are are nine ways you can avoid heartburn at night.

1) Avoid large meals at night

Eating until you’re full to bursting isn’t wise, especially if you suffer with heartburn. Too much pressure in your stomach can promote acid reflux if you have a weak lower oesophageal sphincter. 

Here are some tips to help you reduce your portion sizes: 

  • Eat off a smaller plate.
  • Eat 5-6 smaller meals throughout the day.
  • Eat slowly, it takes our brain at least 20 minutes to register that we are full.
  • Eat mindfully without distractions (like your phone or the TV). Mindful eating can help us to feel more satisfied after our meals. 

2) Reduce your alcohol consumption

We’re sorry to break this to you, but if you want to help avoid heartburn, you might need to need to drink less.

Whilst the off glass of wine is absolutely fine, if you’re serious about relieving your heartburn symptoms, you really want to limit your alcohol intake.

Alcohol can increase stomach acid and relax the lower oesophageal sphincter, both of which are triggers for heartburn at night. Studies have repeatedly shown that even moderate alcohol intake may cause reflux symptoms in  healthy people.

Here are some tips to help you reduce your alcohol intake: 

  • Drink no more than one alcoholic drink a day.
  • Infuse water overnight with berries, mint, watermelon, cucumber or lemon for a tastier non-alcoholic beverage.

3) Cut back on caffeine

We already know that it’s not a good idea to drink caffeine at night if you want a good night’s sleep. But did you know it may also be the culprit for heartburn at night?

Some research has shown that caffeine may weaken the lower oesophageal sphincter, which can increase the risk of symptoms. Fortunately for the coffee addicts amongst us, the evidence is mixed and associated symptoms may very much depend on the individual.

Here are some tips to help you cut back on caffeine: 

  • Try switching your coffee for herbals teas.
  • Reduce caffeine intake slowly to minimise withdrawal symptoms.

4) Minimise your citrus juice consumption

As many as 72% of sufferers with heartburn find that citrus juice aggravates their symptoms. Whilet citrus juice isn’t necessarily the cause of heartburn, it can irritate the lining of the oesophagus, which may worsen your symptoms. 

To help you minimise your citrus juice intake, choose a healthy vegetable juice instead, such as beetroot, carrot, green vegetable juice or strawberry, pear and apple.

5) Avoid raw onion and garlic

There is some evidence to show that acid reflux may worsen after consuming a meal containing raw onion or garlic. It has been suggested that they irritate the lining of the oesophagus, however it is still very dependent on the individual.  

Here are some tips to help you minimise raw onion and garlic:

  • Try infusing onion and garlic into drizzling oils.
  • Ensure your onion and garlic is well-cooked.

6) Limit carbonated beverages

Soft drinks are highly acidic and are strongly associated with night time heartburn. It’s not just sugary drinks you need to watch out for; carbonated water has also been shown to weaken the lower oesophageal sphincter, which can trigger symptoms. 

Need help to limit your intake of carbonated drinks? Infuse water overnight with your favourite berries for a tastier beverage.

7) Avoid high fat foods before bed

While many people can find it hard to digest fatty or fried food before bed, if you suffer from nighttime heartburn you’ll find it a real struggle. That’s because high fat foods can delay gastric emptying, which increases stomach pressure, and in turn promotes heartburn. 

Here are some tips to help you limit fatty meals:

  • Cooking from scratch gives you full control over fat content.
  • A good portion size of fat per meal is one thumb for women and two thumbs for men.
  • Avoid deep-fried foods.

8) Minimise spicy foods 

Spicy foods are a well-known trigger of heartburn, as they can irritate your oesophagus

To help you avoid spicy food (without compromising on taste), switch to herbs such as oregano, thyme, chives, parsley, tarragon, parsley.

9) Don’t skimp on fibre

Reaching your daily fibre intake may help to alleviate or prevent symptoms associated with heartburn. A study involving 65,363 people showed that an increased fibre intake was significantly associated with improved reflux symptoms.

Fibre is an essential component of a healthy diet, however there is also evidence to suggest that too much fermentable fibre may symptoms.  Despite this, it’s recommended that we consume around 30g of fibre a day for optimal health. 

To help up your fibre intake, choose whole grains, beans, lentils, chick peas, fruit and vegetables. (Make sure you keep a food diary and keep a note of any sources of fibre that trigger symptoms so you can avoid these in future.)

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Photo by Gregory Pappas