There are many things that can ruin sleep. Stress, too much alcohol and even exercising late in the day are factors. Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD is another. It’s a condition where stomach acid flows into the esophagus and irritates the lining. It’s characterized by symptoms like heartburn, regurgitation, and difficulty swallowing. Around 15 million Americans experience heartburn every day while 60 million have it at least once a month. Aside from the obvious discomfort, GERD can interfere with sleep. For many, the condition is exacerbated at night and not getting enough sleep may also worsen GERD symptoms. Stress, which can arise out of a lack of sleep, is also linked to heartburn. This interconnectedness is food for thought and if you do suffer from GERD, it’s worth taking note.
There’s no one cause of GERD. However, there are several risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing it and worsen existing GERD. They include:
Not everyone with GERD sees a spike in symptoms at night but a large number do. In a study by Ajou University School of Medicine, 74 percent of GERD patients had symptoms of nocturnal reflux while 54 percent reported heartburn that awakened them from sleep. Symptoms of GERD seem to worsen at night because the lack of gravity keeps stomach acid closer to the esophagus. When you sit or stand, gravity pulls it down into the stomach. When you lie down, gravity can’t do its work and acid is kept near the esophagus. We also don’t swallow as much when sleeping so there aren’t many esophageal contractions taking place that otherwise keep acid in the stomach.
Sleep gives the body the energy it needs to repair and restore itself and even keep the digestive system running smoothly. When you don’t get enough sleep, the digestive process doesn’t function as well. Sleep deprivation also triggers cravings for fatty, sugary foods and may compel you to reach out for them. Such foods are risk factors for GERD.
There’s no evidence that stress directly increases heartburn but it can lead to behavior that does. When you’re stressed, you may not follow normal mealtimes and may not eat healthy foods. Drinking and smoking may also be indulged in, which are all triggers for GERD.
Managing GERD requires a multi-strategy approach that can also improve overall health and wellbeing. These include –
Sleeping on the right side tends to aggravate GERD symptoms. It’s not clear why but it could be because sleeping on the right side relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter that normally guards against acid reflux. Change your position to the left side as it’s believed to ease symptoms.
When you sleep, your esophagus and stomach are at the same level, which could prompt heartburn. Elevating your upper body will allow gravity to draw the acid away from the esophagus and into the stomach.
Certain foods exacerbate heartburn while others control it. You should avoid tomatoes and tomato products, greasy, fatty and spicy foods, garlic and onions, citrus foods, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, and carbonated drinks. Try to include items like plain bread, cereals and rolls, reduced-fat or fat-free dairy products, lean meat, tofu, eggs, and fresh vegetables in your diet.
It takes about 4-5 hours for the stomach to empty itself of a meal. If you eat too close to bedtime, you won’t have digested the food and stomach acid won’t have reduced. Try to eat a light meal 2-3 hours before going to bed so that you have time to partially digest it.
Try to stay upright after dinner – until the time you sleep – to let gravity do its work. If you recline after eating, stomach acid will make its way into your esophagus and cause GERD symptoms that will make it difficult to sleep.
Being overweight increases pressure on the stomach and forces acid up into the esophagus. Managing weight can reduce GERD symptoms dramatically and promote better sleep.
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Choose clothing that’s loose around the stomach to prevent stomach contents from being pushed upward. Try to wear such clothing for sleeping and even during the day to control heartburn.
Encouraging the onset of sleep and staying asleep through the night requires some changes to the bedroom as well. It should be quiet, dark and cool and free of distractions like gadgetry and clutter. The bed you sleep on should be supportive and comfortable too. Nuvanna is a mattress that embodies these traits perfectly. It’s designed by a mattress scientist with over 20 years of experience. It features three layers and each has a function. The top layer regulates body temperature with the use of cooling gel technology so you never sleep hot. The middle layer prevents motion transfer so you and your bed partner can move freely without disturbing each other. The bottom layer provides support to individual parts of the body, including the spine, to prevent back pain and neck pain.
Lifestyle changes can make a big difference in managing GERD and helping you sleep. In fact, many of them have a ripple effect as they’re great for heart health and keeping weight in check. However, if these changes still don’t seem to control heartburn and are still disrupting your sleep, you should see a doctor. Long-term GERD can lead to more serious complications like strictures, Barrett’s esophagus, and cancer.