If you suffer from acid reflux, you know that laying down for a night of sleep is anything but relaxing, given that lying in a totally flat position can make symptoms way worse. Why? Acid reflux, also commonly known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is characterized by the backward flow of stomach acid into your esophagus, which is what connects your stomach to your throat. So, when you’re horizontal it makes it even easier for stomach acid to creep up your esophagus, making sleep uncomfortable and difficult.
Typical reflux symptoms include heartburn (that burning sensation at the back of your chest) and regurgitation, or the sensation that stomach contents or liquid are coming up into your chest and mouth; and chest pain not related to the heart, according to Leila Kia, MD, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor of gastroenterology and hepatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Other symptoms can include a cough, sore throat, or difficulty breathing, though those tend to be less common.
About 20 percent of Americans have acid reflux, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). And the prevalence among women is actually pretty even with men, though men are likely to have more severe complications as a result, Dr. Kia says. Pregnant women are especially susceptible, though, even if they never had reflux symptoms before becoming pregnant. This is because pregnancy hormones like estrogen are known to cause relaxation of the sphincter at the bottom of the esophagus, which is a natural barrier for acid reflux. Additionally, the baby pushing on the stomach will increase the pressure on the stomach, which can promote reflux, she says.
While acid reflux symptoms often coincide with eating a big meal or drinking coffee or alcohol, they’ve also been known to interfere with sleep. This is because the contents in your stomach are more likely to come up into your esophagus because you don’t have gravity to help you clear things out and keep them from coming up, especially if your core is weak or loose. Because of that, Dr. Kia recommends avoiding late meals, and instead eating two to three hours before bed so that your stomach has a chance to empty out.
You’re also not producing as much saliva while you’re sleeping, which is what helps to clear out and neutralize the acid from the esophagus during the day, minimizing reflux symptoms. Wearing tight clothing or being overweight can also contribute to worsened reflux symptoms while you’re sleeping, Dr. Kia says.
Dr. Kia also recommends using a wedge-shaped acid reflux pillow to elevate the head of the bed at night to get gravity on your side and keep your upper body upright to drain your stomach. With one of these pillows, you can sleep in whatever position is most comfortable for you while also keeping your upper body elevated (but pro tip, sleeping on your left side also puts you stomach in a good position to minimize symptoms).
When choosing a wedge pillow, Dr. Kia advises opting for one that’s at least 6 to 8 inches thick to get enough of an angle when using it. The material doesn’t matter as much, though most options are made up of memory foam with a cooling panel for added comfort. As with other habit changes, using a wedge pillow can take some getting used to, but Dr. Kia still recommends it over trying to sleep with multiple pillows, since they slip more easily and can’t prop up your upper body as effectively.
These seven wedge pillows fit Dr. Kia’s guidelines, and can make sleeping with acid reflux waaay more comfortable.