It’s been a long day and you’re tired. The only problem? As soon as you hit the sack you feel it—a burning pain in the center of your chest, a sour taste in your mouth, a feeling like something is stuck in your throat, and maybe even nausea.
They call that acid reflux disease—and it affects about 20 percent of the population. You don’t need to know what it’s called, though, to know it’s making you miserable and keeping you from getting a good night’s sleep.
We’ll talk about how to avoid acid reflux at night in a minute, but first let’s take a quick look at what causes it. There is a valve, called the lower esophageal sphincter, that separates your esophagus from your stomach. Normally, this valve closes as soon as food passes through. When this valve doesn’t close all the way or opens too often, it can allow stomach contents to enter the esophagus—and that’s what causes acid reflux symptoms.
So how do you get that valve to do its job properly?
If your acid reflux symptoms occur frequently and seem to happen no matter what precautions you take, you could be a candidate for fundoplication surgery, which strengthens the valve between the stomach and the esophagus.
The good news, though, is that acid reflux disease usually responds to diet and lifestyle changes. Two of the big ones are losing weight and quitting smoking.
If you’re looking for a more immediate fix, here are a few strategies to try for relief:
Limit acidic foods, including citrus fruits, tomatoes and vinegar.
Cut back on spicy foods, including dishes with chilies, pepper, garlic and onions.
Avoid drinks such as caffeine, carbonated drinks and especially alcohol, which can relax the sphincter muscle.
Avoid eating two to three hours before bedtime.
Eat more frequent, smaller meals.
Try using blocks to raise the head of your bed six inches.
Watch out for chocolate and peppermint, which go great together but can be trigger foods.
Limit high-fat foods like cheese, nuts and rib-eye, as well as fried foods.
We know what you’re thinking. What can I eat? No burger and beer. No steak and wine. Not even a taco salad with sparkling water.
Before you start living on chicken breast and rice, remember that not all of the above foods are irritating to all people. The key to solving your acid reflux is to be aware of what you’re eating and how it makes you feel.
It may be that you can safely eat a filet mignon with a nice glass of merlot, but if you finish that combo off with chocolate cake, your symptoms flare up. Grapefruit might be fine in the morning, but could give you problems if eaten too close to bedtime. Maybe cheese bothers you, but only if you eat more than a few pieces.
It’s also important to note that, for some people, it doesn’t really matter what they eat. If they eat too large a meal too late in the evening, it will bother them.
Don’t forget that many of the changes that will help your acid reflux—such as quitting smoking and avoiding too much alcohol—are good for you anyway.
It’s important that you take your health into your own hands, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. If you’re having trouble with acid reflux, learn more about gastroesophageal reflux disease to have a more educated conversation with your doctor about whether or not you should be treated. Check out our guide, Your Guide to GERD today.