Medically reviewed by Onikepe Adegbola, MD, PhD
A sudden and sharp abdominal pain (below the breastbone and upper belly button) is one of the first tell-tale signs of stomach ulcers. This pain may last from a few minutes to several hours and get worse at night, especially during sleep. The best way of managing the pain is taking prescribed medications and following home remedies. The patients often ask, “how to sleep with a stomach ulcer?” Fortunately, it is possible to enjoy sound sleep by making some changes in the sleeping positions.
What are Stomach Ulcers?
Stomach ulcers are open sores, which develop in the upper digestive tract. The ulcers are caused due to one of the following two reasons: an infection with Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori) bacterium and long-term usage of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
The research titled Peptic Ulcer Disease and Helicobacter Pylori Infection in The Journal of the Missouri State Medical Association revealed that 25% of NSAIDs users develop peptic ulcer disease.
There are two types of ulcers: gastric ulcers and duodenal ulcers. The gastric ulcer forms in the stomach’s lining due to the presence of too much acid, and duodenal ulcer forms in the small intestines. Both gastric ulcers and duodenal ulcers are types of peptic ulcers.
Symptoms of Stomach Ulcers
Epigastric discomfort is one of the most common symptoms of a stomach ulcer. The intensity of the symptoms depends upon the location of the ulcer. Some other symptoms associated with stomach ulcers are:
- Acid Reflux
- Feeling “full” after every meal
- Dark or tarry stools
The symptoms may vary from one person to another.
How to Sleep with Stomach Ulcers?
A study showed that peptic ulcers and poor sleep quality are major health problems affecting the psychological and physical health of older adults. The study also concluded that poor quality sleep contributes to the recurrence of peptic ulcers in older adults.
Another study reported that there is a strong association between gastrointestinal diseases and sleep disturbances. Therefore, people with stomach ulcers should make certain adjustments in their sleeping positions to enjoy a good night’s sleep. Here are some sleeping positions to try:
Sleeping on Back with an Elevated Head
Sleeping on the back by keeping the head in an elevated position does not allow stomach acid to irritate the ulcer. This also reduces the pain and the pressure on the digestive system. Do remember these points while sleeping on the back:
- Use a wedge pillow to elevate the head. Or use wood blocks for raising the head of the bed.
- Keeping a pillow under the knees reduces the pressure on the stomach.
Depending upon the location of the stomach ulcer, sleeping on the back may or may not provide relief. If this position is causing more harm than good, switch the sleeping position by sleeping on the sides instead.
Lie on the Left Side
If sleeping on the back does not provide much relief, try sleeping on the left side. This lowers the compression of the digestive system and reduces the intensity of ulcer pain.
- Place a pillow between the knees if the side-sleeping position is not comfortable.
- Just like sleeping on the back, sleeping on the side is not a guaranteed solution.
Sleeping on the right side and sleeping on the stomach ulcer are regarded as the worst sleeping positions as these may trigger the ulcer pain and put pressure on the neck and back.
It is essential to create a good sleeping environment in the room to get undisturbed sleep during the nighttime. Follow these practices:
- Avoid taking caffeine after dinner or at bedtime.
- Try to take the last meal at least 3 hours before bedtime.
- Stay away from screens like computers, smartphones, TVs, tablets, and phones for a minimum of one hour before going to bed.
- Try to follow a consistent bedtime routine so that the body gives a signal to sleep at the scheduled time every day.
- Indulge in some kind of relaxing and soothing activities a minimum of one hour before sleep. These may include meditating, listening to music, reading books, and massaging feet, legs and arms.
- Keep the room dark to make it snooze-friendly. This can be done by removing night lights from the room, using dark curtains, and sleeping on a soft mattress by using a supportive pillow.
People suffering from stomach ulcers often experience stomach pain as one of the most common symptoms of the medical condition. This condition often interferes with a good night’s sleep. But making certain changes in the sleeping position may reduce the ulcer pain and allow you to sleep comfortably. Sleeping on the back with an elevated head and sleeping on the left side are considered the two best sleep positions.
Fang, B., Liu, H., Yang, S., Xu, R., & Chen, G. (2019). Effect of Subjective and Objective Sleep Quality on Subsequent Peptic Ulcer Recurrence in Older Adults. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 67(7), 1454–1460. https://doi.org/10.1111/jgs.15871
Narayanan, M., Reddy, K. M., & Marsicano, E. (2018). Peptic Ulcer Disease and Helicobacter pylori infection. Missouri medicine, 115(3), 219–224. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6140150/
Salinas R.C., Ramakrishnan K., (2007). Peptic Ulcer Diseases. Journal of American Family Physician. 1005-1012