Shift Work & Acid Reflux: Is Your Schedule the Culprit?

As the years progress, more and more Americans are opting to work the night shift. Nearly 15 million Americans work a permanent night shift or regularly rotate in and out of night shifts according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With that being said, that’s 15 million Americans that are battling the potential impacts that come with working shift work, one of which is acid reflux.

Acid reflux can be impacted greatly by shift work. Decreased gastric movement overnight, along with fried, fatty or spicy foods leads to greater acid reflux and heartburn. Increased water intake, reduced stress, improved posture when eating, no smoking and exercise can all aid in a reduction.

So to understand why acid reflux can be common for those working shift work, we first need to understand what it actually is, the common triggers and why working at times when we should be sleeping can bring this spicy issue out in force!

What is Acid Reflux?

In our bodies, located just below our food pipe is what is known as the lower gastroesophageal sphincter. The purpose of the lower gastroesophageal sphincter is to prevent the contents of your stomach from making their way back up and into your esophagus and mouth. However, it is not uncommon for the lower gastroesophageal sphincter to “malfunction.” (source)

Keep in mind that sphincters in our bodies are muscles that operate on involuntary movements. So, sometimes the lower gastroesophageal sphincter will not close all the way, or it will open too frequently. Either way, the end result is still the same – stomach bile is permitted into your esophagus and mouth, causing a burning sensation known as heartburn.

It’s when you have this heartburn recurring two times or more in one week that you should be concerned that you may have acid reflux disease. In this case, it is important that you consult your general physician.

Watch the video below to find out more.

How Common is it?

Acid reflux is more common for people than you first might think. “It’s estimated that 20 percent of Americans suffer reflux at least once a week, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. And 7 percent of Americans, or about 22 million, experience daily bouts of heartburn, according to the International Foundation Gastrointestinal Disorders”(Today, 2022).

Acid reflux is what causes a burning sensation in your chest/throat area one may experience from time to time, generally more severe up to four hours after eating.

Common Triggers of Acid Reflex

Acid reflux/heartburn can be triggered by an assortment of things. For starters, overeating is a major problem.

Overeating or even eating too quickly could cause food or stomach bile to enter your esophagus or mouth by causing added pressure on your lower gastroesophageal sphincter. There are also certain foods that are known to trigger acid reflux more than others. Some of these include:

  • fried and fatty foods
  • spicy foods
  • chocolate
  • foods containing citrus
  • alcohol
  • spicy foods
  • tomatoes
  • onions
  • garlic
  • peppermint

If you are prone to experiencing heartburn, you may also want to consider staying away from caffeine, coffee, and alcoholic beverages as these have also been linked to acid reflux.

If you cannot eliminate these foods or drinks, you should consider having them in moderation. Knowing what can trigger your bouts of acid reflux can be very beneficial for you. We would suggest that as you eat and you experience acid reflux – try writing down what in your meal could have triggered it. Think of it as keeping a diary. (This diary on Amazon is really popular for this exact purpose). Making these entries will allow you to refer back to common triggers within your acid reflux – that way you know what to avoid when necessary.

Besides food and drinks, there are other forces at work that could be contributing here. When your abdomen area is subjected to an increased amount of pressure – whether it be weight gain, pregnancy, or even as simple as tight clothing – you run the risk of experiencing acid reflux.

There are also certain types of medication and vitamins that could be causing you to experience heartburn too. However, if that medication is prescribed to you by a physician – it is imperative that you consult your doctor before stopping the medication to alleviate the heartburn.

We also believe there is a direct correlation between shift work and having acid reflux for some people. Shift work comes with many perks, but it also comes with many cons. Typically, the cons are associated with a potential impact on one’s health directly, with acid reflux being one of the common culprits.

VIDEO – How To Stop Nausea and Bloating Ruining Your Night Shift

Shift Work and Acid Reflux

If you are reading this, chances are you already know that shift work comes with a whole laundry list of complexities. Those are just the cold hard facts. When we work shift work, we are forcing our bodies to do the exact opposite of what it is biologically designed to do.

When you go against the natural rhythm of your body, there’s a chance you may experience some health issues. Some of these problems can be potentially life-threatening, and others more of a nuisance. One of the health issues most common amongst shift workers is acid reflux.

Studies have shown that our entire body, including our organs work off of a biological clock. Therefore, our gut works off of a biological clock as well. When we command our body to be awake during hours typically meant for sleeping – the body is a creature of habit and continues to do what it normally would.

When it comes to breaking down food, our digestive system slows when the moon is shining and effectively starts up again when the sun rises. Despite how long you may have worked a non-traditional schedule, not in line with your body clock, such as night shift, you have not morphed into the type of human where the basic body clock rules don’t apply. Sorry. Any food we eat overnight will be digested – but it will take a lot longer and may cause pain in the meantime.

Also, working shift work can lead to some pretty unhealthy eating habits. We often find ourselves consuming foods that are more fatty and greasy than a person who works a traditional work schedule normally would. These types of foods are among some of the most common that can lead to acid reflux.

Working outside the normal working hours makes it difficult to plan ahead and get a more healthy option prepared for dinner. So, it’s really no surprise that acid reflux is common in those working abnormal work hours.

Shift work has become a major part of the work industry over the past decade. So, telling people that quitting shift work to combat acid reflux is really not all that feasible. Shift work will always be around, someone has to work those jobs. Some people have no other choice but to work shift-work due to their personal circumstances. Either way it goes, someone somewhere is going to experience acid reflux due to working shift-work. So what are some ways we can find ourselves relief?

Related post: Shift Work Nutrition Advice Most Are Afraid to Talk About

Acid Reflux Relief Strategies for Shift Workers

We should first start off by saying that the number one thing that anyone can do is to consult a physician if you feel the need. Acid reflux can lead to other health conditions, so be sure to speak with someone if this is a regular occurrence.

Now, with that being said there are some ways other than traditional medication that can aid in relief.

Smart Meal Timing on 2nd Shift and Night Shift

When working with the moon (aka it’s dark outside) focus on consuming small snacks only when hungry. Big, heavy meals won’t do you any favors. This video will help you understand why and this blog post will give you a few ideas on what snacks to eat – which are delicious! (Such as chia pudding, granola and dark chocolate).

Some shift workers also find a lot of success with intermittent fasting as the body doesn’t need to constantly process food. This article helps to explain more.

According to Healthline, “Eat more vegetables and oatmeal, which are among foods that help acid reflux symptoms”.

Update your ill-fitting uniform

If your work uniform is too small and pressing uncomfortably in your middle, this extra pressure can induce reflux. Treat yourself and buy something which fits of chat to your manager and see what is available.

Walk after you eat

After your break trying going for a simple walk. This can help to accelerate digestion and reduce the risk of stomach acid seeping up into your esophagus.

Drink more water

One of the best ways that you can combat acid reflux is to increase your water intake. 

Water is neutral, which will assist in digesting your food. It also helps wash down the food/bile that has resurfaced back down into your stomach; soothing the esophagus. Basically, you can’t go wrong with a good glass of water!

Don’t nap straight after eating on night shift

Though you might be completely zonked, try not to nap just after eating. Gravity is a big thing when encouraging food to move in the right direction. Lying down basically pushes your food pipe closer to your stomach – allowing a quick trip for food to re-enter your esophagus and mouth.

Therefore, it’s also important when you do get a break to sit straight when you eat. Posture is very important when eating; especially relating to acid reflux. Most of us (not accusing here – just an observation) eat in more of a slumped position. So, try sitting straight up when eating. Still be comfortable, but try a more straight-lined posture.

When you do finally nap, the Gastroenterology Consultants of San Antonio suggests using a body pillow (like this one from Amazon) that maintains your sleeping position on the left side. This allows acids to pass through the lower esophageal sphincter into the stomach. Make sure your head is elevated, too, as this allows gravity to work.

Eat a banana

Try eating a banana to encourage a soothing effect on your esophagus when experiencing acid reflux. Bananas can act as an absorbent – taking in the acid. It can act as sort of a stomach lining reducing the harsh impacts of the acid. (source)

Pineapple before dinner

This may come as a shock to you, but try eating pineapple before dinner. While pineapples are acidic within themselves, they are surprisingly a positive force when fighting against acid reflux. Pineapples contain digestive enzymes that aid in the breakdown of food. (source)

Reduce stress

I know – easier said than done, right? Let’s just say that except for the rare cases in which stress is a positive thing for you; it’s generally causing added strain on the body.

When our body is stressed out, our digestive system is suppressed. Our body isn’t worried about digesting food because it’s worrying about…WORRYING. So, in most cases, you want to reduce the amount of stress put on your body.

Audry Starky, the author of “Too Tired to Cook” discusses this in more detail. She talks about the rise in our stress hormones cortisol, due to prolonged sleep deprivation which increases our appetite and redistributes fat stores around our waist. Another reason to take control your stress and mental health.

Here are a few posts that will help address your stress and worry.

Give up the smokes

You are already fighting an uphill battle, which smoking cigarettes can make it way worse. Smoking, along with causing life-threatening health issues – is a big factor in acid reflux.

Nicotine causes muscle weakness, and a muscle is exactly what holds stomach bile back from re-entering the esophagus.


You’ll see the word “exercise” in just about every article that has any relation to health. That’s because maintaining your body always has positive health benefits. In the case of acid reflux, maintaining your weight helps significantly within this space.

As shift workers, it can be tough establishing healthy habits in the exercise department due to fatigue. Take a look at the video below for motivation and learn a few tips on how you can fit it into your busy schedule.

Be proactive about your own health

We recently discovered a podcast called the “Acid Reflux Guy.” It a professional, insightful and entertaining podcast well worth a listen. Here is an example of one of his episodes.

We have also been having a powered green juice every morning to kick start our day the right way. This juice, together with a plant-based diet has eliminated my need to take medications for reflux – and I couldn’t be happier! The green juice I am having is SuperGreen TONIK and it’s by far the best I’ve tried and here is a link to the blog post we wrote about the plant-based diet if you’d like to know more.


You could also try a probiotic. As we talk about in this article, Probiotics are living microorganisms found in the gut that help regulate the immune system, strengthen the digestive system, and improve an individual’s overall health. We can help encourage their growth by eating particular foods and also through the use of specialized supplements.

Biotics8 offers a great one for men which you can read more about here and RenewLife has a very popular one on Amazon which is available here.

As you can see there are many different ways in which you can attempt to combat acid reflux on your own. However, there are some cases that are more severe than others and result in consulting with your primary physician.

One of the main details we want you to take away from this is that acid reflux is highly common in the shift work community. So, if it is something that you have been experiencing, we can assure you that you are not alone.

Acid reflux is not typically life-threatening in itself, however, it can lead to other life-dire complications. If you have a recurring bout with acid reflux try some of the remedies mentioned in the article above and see if you find any relief that way. Acid reflux is not the same in each person, so what works for one may not work for another.

If you also know of any suggestions that might help out others who have stumbled across this article, please leave a comment below and assist those who might be struggling.


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Emma @ The Other Shift

Hey there! I'm Emma Smith a passionate, Registered Nurse from Australia. Together with my husband Daniel, we run The Other Shift. Our sole aim is to help shift workers and those on unusual schedules find balance between work and life. I understand the challenges of fitting in exercise, maintaining relationships and getting enough quality sleep, but I'm excited to show you that it’s possible to do shift work and still thrive. Read more about us and our story here.

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