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How to Sleep Better With a Stomach Ulcer (6 Ways)

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  • This article has been written and medically reviewed by Darshan Shingala (M.D, MPH) – a qualified and practicing medical doctor – for maximum factual accuracy and reliability.

Stomach ulcers are open sores on the inside of the stomach that can cause pain and make it difficult to get to sleep.

So how do you get better sleep when you have a stomach ulcer?

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 up-flow of stomach acid; 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.

The rest of this article provides more details on these strategies for sleeping better when you have a stomach ulcer.

Although this article has been written by a qualified medical doctor, you should always speak to your own doctor to get the best medical advice for your unique condition.

Related: find out if it’s safe to sleep with an Apple watch on here.

6 Ways to Sleep Better With a Stomach Ulcer

How to Sleep With a Stomach Ulcer

In addition to watching the video above, you can try the 6 techniques below to help you get better sleep when you have a stomach ulcer:

1: Use an Adjustable Bed to Find the Best Sleeping Position

Getting comfortable at night when you have a stomach ulcer can be difficult.

So what’s the best sleeping position if you have a stomach ulcer?

The location of stomach ulcers can vary, so there’s no single best sleeping position if you have a stomach ulcer – instead, try sleeping on your left/right 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 to help you.

If stomach ulcers are a chronic issue for you, then you might like to consider investing in an adjustable bed because being able to alter the position of your body incrementally can help you to find a pain-free spot so that you can sleep more comfortably.

Adjustable beds can also help alleviate snoring and the symptoms of GERD, acid reflux, and even back pain by elevating the upper portion of the bed.

See the best adjustable beds and mattresses to buy here now.

2: Take Doctor Prescribed Ulcer Medications

Your primary care physician is likely to prescribe you with a combination of medications to reduce the discomfort caused by your stomach ulcers and help you get to sleep.

Although the treatment for peptic ulcers depends on the cause, the overall aim of your medical treatment would involve limiting the colonization of H. pylori bacterium if present, eliminating or reducing your use of NSAIDs, and speeding up the healing process of your peptic ulcer.

The following medications could be included in your treatment plan and if you take them in accordance with your prescription, the symptoms of your ulcers can be managed better, thereby helping you to sleep well:

i) Antibiotics to Kill H. Pylori

If your stomach ulcers are H. pylori-induced, then your doctor may prescribe you with a combination of antibiotics to kill the H. pylori bacterium.

These medications may include amoxicillin, clarithromycin, tetracycline, levofloxacin, metronidazole, and tinidazole.

ii) Medications to Inhibit the Production of Gastric Acid

Proton pump inhibitors are commonly prescribed drugs for the treatment of peptic ulcers.

Proton pump inhibitors block the action of a part of gastric cells which is responsible for producing hydrochloric acid in the stomach.

Hence, medications such as omeprazole, lansoprazole, rabeprazole, esomeprazole, and pantoprazole reduce the content and production of stomach acid to combat stomach ulcers.

Another class of drugs, known as histamine (H-2) blockers, such as famotidine, cimetidine, and ranitidine, are often prescribed to reduce the amount of stomach acid which is released into the digestive tract.

These medications are available both by prescription and over the counter.

iii) Medications to Neutralize the Stomach Acid

Usually available over the counter, antacids are neutralizing medications that react with the stomach acid and provide near-instant pain relief.

However, depending on the composition of these drugs, some of them may have minor side effects such as constipation or diarrhea.

iv) Medications to Protect the Stomach Lining

Your doctor may include some cytoprotective medications in your drug regimen to help protect the inner lining of your stomach from further damage.

These medications include sucralfate and misoprostol.

3: Avoid Trigger Foods Before Bed

It’s important to avoid foods that may aggravate your stomach ulcer and cause pain – especially before bed in order to limit the disruption of your sleep.

Your doctor or nutritionist is likely to provide you with a list of food items that can relieve or exacerbate the symptoms of your ulcerous disease.

For example, it is often suggested that patients with gastric ulcers must try to avoid the consumption of certain foods that are known to aggravate acid reflux or indigestion such as spicy food dishes containing spices like cayenne and tabasco.

It has been noted that spicy foods are likely to boost your metabolism due to their active ingredient, capsaicin, and this metabolism-boosting property can trigger heartburn in some people.

Spices are also thermogenic because they have the capacity to increase the basal temperature of the body which in turn can make you feel more awake.

Since each individual responds differently to different food items, it can sometimes be challenging to identify which foods may trigger your symptoms – so it’s recommended that you maintain a food diary and take regular notes of your meals, drinks, and snacks.

You can share the notes of your food diary on a weekly basis with a qualified nutritionist and it will surely assist you in managing your symptoms.

4: Allow 3-4 Hours Between Your Last Meal and Bedtime

In general, it is recommended for all people to consume a light dinner at least 3 to 4 hours before going to bed so that you feel settled and comfortable when you go to sleep.

But, when you are dealing with a digestive disorder, such as peptic ulcers in the stomach or duodenum, you must try to avoid a high-protein or a high-fat meal before bedtime.

Research suggests that the consumption of a dense meal – such as a high-protein meal or a high-fat meal – right before bed contributes to sleep disturbances.  

It is also recommended that while recovering from stomach ulcers, you maintain a strict time schedule for your meals.

As far as your last meal is concerned, it would be best to not consume dinner too close to your bedtime.

Ideally, as mentioned above, one should consume their last meal at least 3-4 hours prior to going to sleep.

5: Reduce Stress and Unhealthy Habits

Numerous scientific studies have shown that excessive stress and unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as alcohol consumption and smoking, can significantly contribute to your ulcerous disease.

Not only can stress, smoking and alcohol make your ulcers worse, but they can also contribute to the recurrence of your ulcers once they have been treated or healed.

Follow the tips below to improve your outlook:

5.1: Limit Stress

Patients have reported that their signs and symptoms of peptic ulcers become worse when they are in stressful situations.

It is understandable that not all types of stress are avoidable, but you must make an effort to learn different coping mechanisms such as exercise, meditation, writing a daily journal, or spending time with friends and family.

You must know that stress not only interferes with your disease, but it also interferes with your sleep.

5.2: Quit Smoking

Smoking disturbs the protective factors in your stomach, and it makes the gastric environment more susceptible to develop ulcers.

Studies show that smoking also increases stomach acid – which is responsible for aggravating the disease.

5.3: Limit or Avoid Alcohol

Alcohol acts as an irritant to the mucosa of the stomach.

Consumption of alcohol, especially in large quantities such as while binge drinking, can erode the inner lining of the esophagus and stomach – leading to excessive inflammation and bleeding.

6: Minimize Distractions Before Bed

In order to sleep well at night, especially while recovering from stomach ulcers, it is recommended that you make a conscious effort to minimize any distractions at night time, such as a noisy environment, excessively bright lights, and extended use of electronic devices.

More details below:

6.1: Block Out Noise With Earplugs

Aim to create a calm and silent zone in your bedroom.

This will help you to unwind, relax and fall asleep quickly.

To achieve this, you may consider using earplugs, noise-canceling devices, or you can try to play a soft calming music at low volume in the background.

I personally find that listening to the brown noise in the video below with my earphones in is an excellent way to block out annoying ambient sounds before sleep (then I switch to earplugs once I’m ready to sleep):

10 HOURS BROWN NOISE Noise Blocker for Sleep, Study, Tinnitus , Insomnia

6.2: Dim the Lighting and Black Out Your Bedroom

Excessively bright and flashy lighting can substantially disrupt your sleep cycle.

You can try dimming your bedroom lights a few hours prior to going to bed before eventually switching off all the lights closer to bedtime.

Please make sure that the lights in your bedroom are not too bright, flashy, or flickery because bad bedroom lighting can potentially trigger headaches in some people.

You should also consider applying any of these 19 ways to black out your bedroom for better sleep.

6.3. Limit the Use of Electronic Devices

Recent studies show that the blue light emitted from electronic devices is responsible for poor sleep quality.

Thus, it would be a good idea to limit the use of electronic devices such as mobile phones, laptops, tablets, and television before bedtime.

As a nighttime ritual, you can observe a no-screen time for up to 2-3 hours before going to bed.

This can be a soothing addition to your sleep hygiene and interestingly, according to recent studies, if you struggle with nightmares or bad dreams, limiting your screen time may reduce their frequency of occurrence.

How Stomach Ulcers Can Affect Sleep

Below is a short guide that explains what a stomach ulcer is, the common symptoms, and how they can affect sleep:

Stomach Ulcers Are Open Sores in the Stomach Tissue

Stomach ulcers, otherwise also referred to as gastric ulcers or peptic ulcers, are open sores that develop on the innermost lining of the stomach tissue.

Peptic ulcer disease can be classically defined as a break in the continuity of the mucosal layer of the stomach or duodenum.

This can be due to an imbalance between the protective gastric factors such as prostaglandins, mucus, bicarbonate, and mucosal blood flow, and the aggressive gastric factors such as gastric acid, pepsin, Helicobacter pylori infection, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug use.

Pain and Bloating Are the Most Common Symptoms

The common symptoms of peptic ulcers are sharp burning stomach pain, discomfort in the epigastric region, feeling of fullness, bloating, belching, heartburn, nausea, and intolerance to fatty foods.

The less common symptoms of peptic ulcers are loss of appetite, sudden changes in the pattern of appetite, frequent vomiting, occasional vomiting with blood which may appear red or black, black or tarry stools with dark blood in feces, and unexplained weight loss.

H. Pylori Bacteria Can Cause Stomach Ulcers

Although in general there can be several causes of peptic ulcer disease, the most common causes associated with developing a peptic ulcer include a persistent untreated infection with the Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria.

H.pylori are spiral-shaped bacteria that can erode the inner lining of the stomach and duodenum, thereby causing peptic ulcer disease, also known as an H. pylori-induced peptic ulcer.

The prevalence of H. pylori bacterial infection is about 30 to 40 percent among the adult population in the United States.

Scientists have identified recently that approximately 80 percent of stomach ulcers and more than 90 percent of the duodenal ulcers are caused by H. pylori alone.

Hence, it is safe to state that a large proportion or even almost all ulcers in the duodenum and stomach can be attributed to an infection caused by the H. pylori bacterium.  

NSAIDs Can Cause Stomach Ulcers

The long-term use of pain-relieving nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen, and some rare types of cancerous and noncancerous lesions in the stomach, duodenum, or pancreas such as the Zollinger-Ellison syndrome (ZES) can also cause stomach ulcers.

If you take NSAIDs every day or multiple times per week, then it is quite likely that you may be at risk of developing an NSAID-induced peptic ulcer – a peptic ulcer caused by the long-term overuse of NSAIDs.

Zollinger–Ellison Syndrome Can Cause Stomach Ulcers

Another cause of peptic ulcers could be Zollinger–Ellison syndrome (ZES).

ZES is essentially a gastrinoma – a neuroendocrine tumor that secretes a hormone called gastrin, which causes the stomach to produce too much acid resulting in peptic ulcers.

However, ZES is a rare digestive disorder because its annual incidence is only 0.5 to 2 per million population.

An Unhealthy Lifestyle Can Worsen Symptoms

Excessive smoking, frequent consumption of alcohol, prolonged stress, and eating very spicy foods can increase your risk of developing ulcers or may exacerbate or worsen your symptoms if you have already been diagnosed with an ulcerous disease.

Stomach Ulcers Can Heal Within 2-3 Months

Typically, uncomplicated stomach ulcers can heal within two to three months with proper treatment, however, if there are some complications associated with the ulcers, the healing time may extend considerably. 

Sometimes, stomach ulcers which are complicated with perforation, bleeding or malignancy, or certain peptic ulcers which are unresponsive to extended drug therapy, might require invasive treatment such as surgery.

There are specific surgical procedures such as gastrectomy or vagotomy, which are performed to deal with stubborn peptic ulcers.

After gastric surgery, you might need to make significant lifestyle adjustments to better cope with the aftermath of an invasive procedure.

Poor Sleep Quality Can Worsen Symptoms

While you are recovering from stomach ulcers or gastric surgery to treat the ulcer, your sleep cycle and sleep pattern may suffer drastic changes.

The link between sleep and stomach ulcers is quite interesting.

On one hand, some researchers say that poor sleeping patterns can aggravate the ulcers, while on the other hand, some researchers say that the pain and discomfort associated with stomach ulcers accounts for the sleep disturbances among patients.

Although it is difficult to establish a cause and effect relationship between sleep and stomach ulcers, one can say with certainty that quality of sleep and stomach ulcers are definitely closely associated variables.

Conclusion: Try Multiple Techniques

To sleep better with a stomach ulcer, start by adjusting your sleep position to find the most comfortable position (consider an adjustable bed to help you) and take the medications prescribed by your doctor.

In addition to this, you should consider making lifestyle changes to your diet and improving your sleep hygiene if appropriate.

Speak to your doctor if your symptoms persist.

Up next: 6 ways to sleep better after ACL surgery.


Sources and References

[1] NHS – Stomach Ulcer. Accessed 28/4/21.

[2] Pub Med – Peptic Ulcer Disease. Accessed 28/4/21.

[3] NCBI – Peptic Ulcer Disease and Helicobacter Pylori Infection. Accessed 28/4/21.

[4] NCBI – An Overview of History, Pathogenesis and Treatment of Perforated Peptic Ulcer Disease with Evaluation of Prognostic Scoring in Adults. Accessed 28/4/21.

[5] PubMed – Sleep Duration, Depression, and Peptic Ulcer Recurrence in Older Patients with Mild Cognitive Impairment. Accessed 28/4/21.

[6] AGS – Effect of Subjective and Objective Sleep Quality on Subsequent Peptic Ulcer Recurrence in Older Adults. Accessed 28/4/21.

Medical Disclaimer

No part of this article or website offers medical advice – always consult with a qualified professional for such guidance.

Image Attribution and Licencing

Main image: ‘Stomach Pain’ by Gpoint Studio – used with permission under the terms of Canva’s One Design Use License Agreement.

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