Acid reflux is a medical condition characterised by backing up of acid from the stomach into the oesophagus and often upto the throat causing irritation over the lining of tissue. It is also known as heartburn or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). It causes a burning sensation and profound discomfort in the upper abdomen and lower chest. The human stomach produces hydrochloric acid which helps in digesting food. The oesophagus is long muscular and tubular structure in the human body, which connects the upper portion of the stomach to the back of the throat. The oesophagus has 2 sphincters; one on the upper portion of the tube and one on the lower portion of the tube. The lower sphincter is weaker and may cause leakage of acid from the stomach into the oesophagus. There are certain factors which may cause weakening of this sphincter and escape of acid from the stomach to the oesophagus; i.e. acid reflux. Some of these factors revolve around lifestyle issues such as excessive consumption of caffeinated beverages, having oily and spicy food, and having late dinner.
Does Late Night Dinner Cause Acid Reflux?
Late dinner is one of the most common causes of acid reflux. This is mainly because the stomach produces acid when there is food in the stomach (to aid in digestion). When we have dinner less than 4 hours before bedtime, the chances of having acid in the stomach before sleeping is high. Lower oesophageal sphincter opens up upon lying down due to gravity. This in turn causes flow of acid from the stomach into the oesophagus. It causes discomfort and burning sensation in the chest, often causing disturbed sleep. Other symptoms include backing up of acidic fluid in the mouth, while we burp, and irritation in the throat. This may be associated with hoarseness of voice, sinusitis, post nasal drip, asthma, sore throat, cough, allergies etc.
It is therefore advised to avoid heavy dinner or late dinner to avoid acid accumulation in stomach before sleeping. There should be a gap of 4 hours between dinner and bed time, as it takes about 4 hours to empty the stomach after eating. Considering this, it is recommended to have dinner before 7 pm every day. In advanced cases, medication such as proton pump inhibitor can help in dealing with this problem.
Foods to Avoid Before Sleeping
There are certain food items, which produce more reflux than other food. These include:
Alcohol: Alcohol tends to relax the muscles of the oesophagus, causing opening of the lower sphincter and backward flow of acid from the stomach to the throat. Energy drinks have the same effect as alcohol on muscles of the oesophagus.
Soft Drinks and Fruit Juices: These beverages contain sugar which is acidified to the same level as stomach juice.
Chocolates and Candy: These are known to be terrible triggering agent and should be avoided before sleeping.
Ice-cream and Sugary Cookies: As with chocolate and other sugary item, ice cream and cookies should be avoided at night as they are high in fat and sugar content.
Heavy Food: Fatty food like pizzas, sandwiches, burgers etc. lowers the digestion speed and it takes longer time for the stomach to empty and be acid free.
Nuts: Nuts act as a great snack during the day, but should be avoided at night as they act as acid reflux trigger agents at night.
Citrus Fruits and Apples: These fruits should be avoided at night as they trigger acid production at night.
Caffeine to be Avoided before Sleeping: Caffeinated beverages are known to keep up all night as the chemical composition of caffeine trigger the reflux mechanism.
Frequent acid reflux can lead to irritation in the throat and can also cause serious problems like asthma or exacerbate the condition. However, with simple diet changes and not sleeping immediately after dinner can prevent it from happening. Hence, it is very essential that one should avoid having late night dinner and finishes it at least 4 hours before going to bed and avoid certain foods which trigger acid reflux.
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