Home Healthy Aging How to Sleep with a Stomach Ulcer – 9 Steps

How to Sleep with a Stomach Ulcer – 9 Steps

by Virginia Fidler
how to sleep with a stomach ulcer feature

Poor sleep quality can be caused by age-related chronic health conditions: medication use, sleep changes, and other issues. In America, this affects around one-third of all older adults. Peptic ulcers are common among older adults, too. They often result from the presence of a specific bacteria, Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), in the gut. With the development of treatments for H. pylori infections; however, the rate of peptic ulcers reoccurring (ulcers that consistently come back after treatment) has dropped dramatically.

For people who are suffering from these ulcers and waking up tired, they wonder how to sleep with a stomach ulcer.

In the United States, peptic ulcer disease affects approximately 4.6 million people annually, with an estimated 10% of the US population having evidence of an ulcer at some time. H. pylori infections account for 90% of duodenal ulcers and 70-90% of gastric ulcers. The proportion of people with H pylori infection and peptic ulcer disease steadily increases with age.

The prevalence of peptic ulcer disease has shifted from predominance in males to occurrences in males and females. The lifetime prevalence is approximately 11-14% in men and 8-11% in women.

How to Ease Stomach Ulcer Pain at Night

You might shudder at the thought of lying down to sleep when you are in pain from a stomach ulcer. Stomach ulcers develop when the stomach’s protective lining is weakened, usually as a result of overuse of NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) pain relievers or an H. pylori infection, allowing stomach acid to cause tissue damage. Most ulcers can be healed with a combination of doctor and at-home treatments.

Does Lying Down Make an Ulcer Worse?

Yes, the muscle at the end of your esophagus, called the lower esophageal sphincter, does not close properly when lying horizontally. This sideways position allows stomach acid and the food you eat to make its way back up the esophagus.

The location of stomach ulcers can vary, so there’s no single best sleeping position if you have a stomach ulcer. Try sleeping on your left side or back to find out which position is the most comfortable for you (however, sleeping on your stomach will probably make the pain worse) and consider using an adjustable bed that lifts your upper half to help.

How to Sleep with a Stomach Ulcer

1 – Get a Diagnosis and Treatment Plan from Your Doctor

Don’t just assume you’ve got a stomach ulcer, and don’t just wait for it to go away! See your doctor and have tests performed so that they can make a diagnosis. Together you can decide which treatment options are best for your condition.

A stomach ulcer’s most common symptom is a burning pain in the center of your chest, usually just below your breastbone. Bloating is another common symptom, while nausea and vomiting are less common.

2 – Adjust Your Sleeping Position

To sleep better with a stomach ulcer: sleep on your side or back; use pillows or an adjustable bed to elevate your head and limit the stomach acid from flowing upwards; take doctor prescribed ulcer medications; avoid spicy foods; eat 3-4 hours before bed; limit stress; stop smoking; avoid alcohol, and follow good sleep hygiene.

If possible, sleep on your back with your torso elevated.

Keeping the upper body elevated uses gravity as an advantage. This makes it more difficult for stomach acid to reach and irritate the ulcer. Furthermore, sleeping on your back reduces the compression of your digestive system, which can alleviate ulcer pain. For mid-day napping, consider a recliner for sleeping.

You want to elevate your torso, not just lift your head. Bed at the hip, not at the neck. You can purchase an elevating bed or your can put blocks under the top legs of your bed frame.

If you find this sleeping position so uncomfortable that it prevents you from sleeping, you may be doing more harm than good.

Lay on your left side if you’re a side-sleeper. 

woman sleeping on left side

If sleeping on your back isn’t for you, try sleeping on your left side rather than your right. Because of the layout of your digestive system, sleeping on your left side may result in less compression and pain from ulcers.

This, like sleeping on your back, is not a guaranteed solution, depending on where your stomach ulcer is located.
Side sleeping may be more comfortable if you place a pillow between your knees.

Don’t sleep on your stomach as this puts pressure on your stomach. 

This is typically the worst sleeping position for someone suffering from a stomach ulcer or other stomach acid-related issues (such as GERD). If you sleep on your stomach naturally, try to get used to sleeping on your back or left side instead.

Sleeping on your stomach is also more difficult on your back and neck than in other positions.

3 – Create a Good Sleep Environment

Plan for bedtime a few hours before you go to bed!

Caffeine is a stimulant and should be avoided after lunch. Do not eat large meals or snacks within 3 hours of going to bed. Eating before bedtime puts your digestive system to work instead of allowing it to rest, causes bloating and discomfort, and increases stomach acid production.

Also, avoid using screens such as TVs, computers, smartphones, and tablets for at least an hour before going to bed. “Blue light” emitted by electronic screens may disrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythm, which governs the sleep cycle.

4 – Create a Consistent Bedtime Routine

Create a sleeping environment that is cool, quiet, dark, and comfortable. The more sleep-friendly your environment, the easier it will be to fall and stay asleep despite your discomfort.

Train your body to be sleep-ready by maintaining a consistent routine each night so that your body becomes accustomed to the routine and more readily adjusts to sleep time.

You could try:

  • A warm bath with Epsom salt and up to 20 drops of lavender essential oil.
  • Massage your feet, legs, arms, and neck, particularly while in the tub.
  • Listen to soothing music and lay out your clothes for tomorrow.
  • Pray or practice meditation.
  • Listen to relaxing music.
  • Reading a relaxing book.
woman sleeping in dark room

5 – Take Acid-Reducing Medicines As Recommended

Excess stomach acid does not cause ulcers, but it does aggravate the painful symptoms. Cutting back on your stomach acid should help relieve your pain and promote ulcer healing. Antacids, which are over-the-counter (OTC) medicines that neutralize stomach acid, are a common acid-reducing option.

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These do not promote ulcer healing, but they can help relieve ulcer pain.

6 – Drink Chamomile Tea Before Going to Bed

Chamomile contains natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, which can help reduce stomach acid and speed up the healing of an ulcer. It is the go-to drink for many people needing help to fall asleep.

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7 – Identify Foods That Can Cause Painful Flare-Ups

Contrary to popular belief, spicy foods do not cause stomach ulcers—but they can make them worse! Because different people have different trigger foods that aggravate their ulcer pain, keeping track of what you eat and the severity of the symptoms is your best option. Once you’ve identified specific foods that trigger flare-ups, try to limit or avoid them as much as possible.

The most common triggers are spicy foods, acidic foods (such as tomatoes and citrus), chocolate, mint, and fried foods, but yours may be different. Carbonated drinks and dairy products can temporarily relieve ulcer pain but make it worse later on.

Keeping a food diary can help you keep track of what you eat and how you feel afterwards. Try an elimination diet if it’s severe. This involves removing specific foods from your diet for a few days at a time. If you begin to feel better, try to avoid eating that food in the future. Note, however, that an elimination diet should be done in conjunction with your medical provider’s advice. A true elimination diet can be very difficult to undertake.

8 – Quit Smoking and Limit Your Alcohol Intake

Smoking, in addition to causing a variety of other health issues, can increase stomach acid production and worsen ulcer symptoms. Alcohol also causes an increase in stomach acid production, which leads to more ulcer pain. Avoiding both may help to alleviate your symptoms.

9 – Reduce Your Stress

Stress, like spicy foods, is frequently blamed unjustly for causing stomach ulcers. While stress isn’t the actual cause of ulcer pain, it can certainly make it worse.

Stress can also cause unhealthy coping behaviors such as smoking, excessive drinking, or eating unhealthy “comfort” foods, which can aggravate ulcer pain. Look for healthy stress-relieving activities such as light exercise, meditation or prayer, being outside, or talking to a good friend.

If you’re having trouble dealing with stress, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional

Summary

doctor examining a patient for stomach ulcer

It is important to seek additional medical attention, for ongoing or severe cases

Following a doctor’s treatment plan may result in the cure you of a stomach ulcer in as little as 2-3 weeks, though it may take longer. Keep in touch with your doctor to keep them up to date on your progress or lack thereof, and to discuss any changes to your treatment plan that may be required. Ask for medical attention as soon as possible if:

  • You begin vomiting fresh or dried blood.
  • You have been vomiting or have diarrhea for a prolonged period time.
  • Develop a high or long-lasting fever.
  • If there is blood or dried blood in your stools (which appears black and tarry).
  • Have a lot of pain or bloating.
  • Jaundice may appear (yellowing of your skin and eyes).

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