Waking Up With Heartburn: Causes, Treatment, Prevention

Morning heartburn is common and treatable

Waking up with heartburn is called "riser's reflex." If you experience it, you may feel a burning sensation in the chest, neck, or throat and have a bitter taste in your mouth first thing in the morning or within 20 minutes of getting up.

While not a pleasant way to start the day, it's not a surprising one: Heartburn occurs when stomach acid flows backward into the esophagus, and lying down is one way this can happen.

Heartburn in the morning that's due to, say, pregnancy or alcohol consumption in the evening is normal. But waking up with heartburn can also be a sign of conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and hiatal hernias that could benefit from treatment.

woman with heartburn

Moyo Studio / Getty Images

Symptoms of Morning Heartburn

Waking up with heartburn is a common occurrence, especially for people with GERD. A study concluded that out of 39 people, nineteen experienced acid reflux events within the first 20 minutes after waking up in the morning.

Some of the symptoms of heartburn include:

  • Pain in the chest when you lie down or bend over
  • A hot, acidic, salty, or sour taste in the back of the throat
  • A burning feeling in the throat
  • A burning feeling in the chest that ranges from a few minutes to a few hours

Along with these symptoms, people who have GERD may also experience:

  • Nausea
  • Chest pains
  • Pain and difficulty swallowing
  • Chronic cough or hoarseness

Waking up in the middle of the night with heartburn is also common.

Treatment

You may be able to stop heartburn in the morning in several ways, including:

  • Avoiding certain foods
  • Taking medication
  • Changing lifestyle habits
  • Possibly having surgery

Understand that certain foods and movements can trigger heartburn to come back once it has been treated.

Some treatments include over-the-counter or prescription medications, such as:

  • H2 blocker: This medication is known to reduce the amount of acid that the stomach produces. It is also known to heal the esophagus. H2 blockers can be prescribed by your healthcare provider or bought over the counter.
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): PPIs are known to be better at treating GERD symptoms. They also heal the esophageal lining in people who have GERD. This medication can be bought over the counter or prescribed by a healthcare provider. If a person receives long-term GERD treatment, the healthcare provider may prescribe PPIs. It is important to talk with your healthcare provider regarding the risks; they can help you make the best decision for your condition.
  • Antacids: This medication is most common and recommended to relieve mild heartburn and mild GERD. Antacids are available over the counter. Although they are the most common, they should not be used for severe symptoms or every day. The side effects include diarrhea or constipation.

If the medications and lifestyle changes don’t help your heartburn in the morning, your healthcare provider may recommend surgery.

Other Causes of Morning Heartburn

Although GERD is a common reason for heartburn in the morning, there are other reasons that someone can experience heartburn during this time. Some factors include your activities the night before and lifestyle habits. Other factors include:

  • Having a high stress level
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Wearing tight clothes and belts
  • Pregnancy
  • Certain medications, especially anti-inflammatory drugs and aspirin

How to Stop Morning Heartburn From Happening

To reduce the likelihood of waking up with heartburn, lifestyle changes can make a difference. These include:

  • Elevating your head during sleep
  • Eating meals three hours before going to sleep
  • Losing weight if you are overweight
  • Changing diet and eating habits

Talk to your healthcare provider regarding options and changes that you can make to help your condition.

Another way to reduce the symptoms of morning heartburn is to avoid foods and beverages that may increase heartburn symptoms. Some of these include:

  • Spicy foods
  • High-fat foods
  • Coffee and other sources of caffeine
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus
  • Onions
  • Alcoholic beverages

Your healthcare provider can help you create a list of foods to remove and incorporate into your diet that will help treat your GERD symptoms. It is important to work with your healthcare provider, continue to take your medicine—if prescribed—and follow a plan that will help you have the best outcome regarding your condition.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If heartburn in the morning becomes chronic, it can lead to respiratory problems, inflammation, and narrowing of the esophagus.

If you have symptoms that include the following, you should contact your healthcare provider.

  • The heartburn won’t go away.
  • You have serious wheezing.
  • The symptoms of heartburn are more frequent and severe.
  • You have consistent hoarseness.
  • There is unexpected weight loss.
  • You have been taking over-the-counter antacids for more than two weeks and still have heartburn symptoms.
  • Vomiting occurs because of heartburn.
  • Prescription medicine doesn’t relieve heartburn.

It is important to contact your healthcare provider about your symptoms and progress. They can help you with any questions and concerns about your specific condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it normal to have heartburn every day?

    Occasional heartburn is normal for a lot of people. However, if you have heartburn every day, you may have GERD. Proper diagnosis and treatment are needed.

  • When should I be worried about heartburn?

    Occasional heartburn isn't usually a cause for concern. However, if your heartburn is persistent, recurring, or accompanied by wheezing, hoarseness, or vomiting, talk to a healthcare provider.

  • Does drinking water help heartburn?

    Staying hydrated helps with overall digestion. However, drinking large amounts of water at once can make heartburn worse. It's best to drink small amounts consistently throughout the day instead.

Was this page helpful?
3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Heartburn.

  2. Poh C, Allen l, Malagon I et al. Riser’s reflux - an eye-opening experience. Neurogastroenterology &Motility. 2010;22(4):387-394. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2982.2009.01446.x

  3. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. Symptoms and causes of GER & GERD.