Why the Right Side is the Wrong Side for Sleeping with Acid Reflux
When acid reflux and heartburn strike in the middle of the night, they can stand between you and the sleep you need. Nighttime symptoms are common for many people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and if you’ve been experiencing them, you may have already found a few ways to reduce your risk of symptoms while you sleep.
However, your ability to avoid acid reflux at night doesn’t just hinge on how late you eat or how high you raise the head of your bed. The position you sleep in can have a surprisingly strong influence on GERD symptoms. Sometimes, minimizing your risk of nightly heartburn is as simple as sleeping on a different side.
How Not to Sleep
Many studies show that sleeping on your right side can lead to heartburn. Though we aren’t exactly sure why, some have hypothesized that sleeping on the right side can relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is the muscular valve that keeps stomach acid from entering the esophagus. Researchers have found significant increases in overall acid clearance and reflux time in studies of right-side sleeping. Stomach sleeping may also have similar effects.
Switching to a Better Side
When it comes to preventing acid reflux and heartburn, sleeping on the left side appears to be most beneficial. Studies have shown that left-side sleeping has a tendency to calm heartburn, perhaps because it keeps the LES above the level of acid in your stomach. Sleeping on your back is also preferential to right-side sleeping, especially if you use pillows to prop your head up.
Of course, you aren’t always cognizant of your sleeping position—you are unconscious, after all. Changing the side you sleep on is not always easy, but like any habit, you can adopt a better sleep position by making gradual changes until a better position becomes your new normal. If you’re having trouble switching sides, try tips like:
- Camping out on the couch. Though it might not seem like the most elegant solution, your sofa is likely much narrower than your bed, and this will make it difficult to sleep on your stomach. Spend a few nights sleeping on your left side on the couch, then transition back to bed.
- Piling up the pillows. If you simply find left side sleeping uncomfortable, it might be time for a little more padding. Try hugging a pillow in front of you, or sleeping with one between your legs. There are even pillows made specifically for side sleepers, which may have special contours or an opening to slip your bottom arm through.
The position you sleep in can have a big impact on the quality of sleep you get, especially if you suffer from acid reflux and heartburn. Remember: when it comes to preventing nighttime GERD symptoms, the left side is your best bet.