When you go to sleep or go into a reclining position, gravity no longer pulls everything in your abdomen straight down. If you have a full stomach, this can cause acid reflux, potentially resulting in long-term damage to your esophagus. If you have digestive problems when you lie down after going to sleep, you should talk to your doctor and consider making changes to your lifestyle.
When you eat food, your stomach churns to help mix the food with gastric acid and break it down. The top of your stomach is lined with a ring of muscle known as the lower esophageal sphincter. This muscle prevents the contents of your stomach from traveling up into your esophagus. However, when partially digested food presses up against the lower esophageal sphincter, it can relax. When you have a full stomach and lie down, more food can press against the sphincter, allowing the contents of your stomach to re-enter your esophagus.
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Your stomach produces large amounts of acid to help break down food and activate special enzymes that further digest proteins. Although your stomach is equipped to handle this acid, your esophagus is not. If the acidic contents of your stomach escape into your esophagus, the cells that line your esophagus become damaged by the stomach acid. This process, known as acid reflux, can cause a burning pain in your chest and might also result in an unpleasant taste in your mouth. You might also develop a dry cough, hoarseness, a sore throat or have trouble swallowing.
Stomach Acid Problems
Lying down on a full stomach can cause significant discomfort, but it can also lead to serious health problems. If the lining of your esophagus is regularly burned by stomach acid, your esophageal cells will gradually change, resulting in a phenomenon known as Barrett's esophagus. This increases your risk of developing esophageal cancer. Chronic acid reflux can also cause your esophagus to narrow or develop open sores.
Preventing Acid Reflux
The easiest way to prevent the adverse effects that occur when you lie down after eating is to avoid reclining for at least three hours after eating a large meal. You can also try to eat smaller meals in the evening. Raising the head of your bed by between 6 and 8 inches will also help prevent acid reflux. If you regularly experience acid reflux, you might have some other health problem, such as a hiatal hernia, which might be contributing to this problem, so talk to your doctor if acid reflux is a regularly occurring problem.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.