“My shoulders hurt and I feel all tight and it feels like I can't get a good breath, like someone is sitting on me and squeezing all the air out of me.”
“I get pulsing in my stomach which radiates up my chest to my head so my whole body pulses. I get dizzy and my legs sometimes feel weak.”
These complaints are familiar to the Sleep Specialists at Mattress World Northwest who immediately recognize the words of someone who has acid reflux, a condition that occurs when stomach acids and other stomach contents back up into the esophagus through the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). When you’re eating, a properly functioning LES opens to permit food to enter the stomach. It then closes to keep the food and digestive juices like hydrochloric acid from backing up into the esophagus. A weak or damaged LES may not close properly which will allow stomach contents to back up into the esophagus, causing some of the symptoms described above.
The most common symptom of acid reflux is heartburn. Classic heartburn feels like a burning pain in the chest which starts behind the sternum and radiates in the direction of the neck and throat. Heartburn is most troublesome soon after eating and while lying down, and can last for several hours per episode. The pain comes from the sting of stomach acids on the inner esophagus wall, which, unlike the stomach lining, does not have a natural protective coating.
The acid reflux sufferer may also experience a bitter or sour taste in the mouth or a burning sensation in the throat caused by a backwash of stomach acid. Another disturbing symptom of acid reflux is regurgitation or the sensation of food or liquid moving up in your throat rather than down.
Many people with acid reflux have mistakenly gone to the emergency room thinking the burning and discomfort they were feeling in the upper part of their abdomen was a heart attack when it was actually dyspepsia, also known as common indigestion.
When acid reflux becomes chronic, the condition is called gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, one of the primary causes of disturbed sleep in adults between 45 and 64 according to the National Sleep Foundation. In a survey of 1,900 GERD sufferers in America and Europe, 55% said they had trouble sleeping at night with symptoms ranging from insomnia to restless leg syndrome to sleep apnea. Forty percent of GERD sufferers reported that daily functioning was compromised the next day.
According to Lawrence Cheskin, MD and Brain Lacy, MD, authors of Healing Heartburn, “… the cornerstone of treatment for any disease or disorder is prevention.” And part of that prevention is some simple lifestyle changes that any heartburn or GERD sufferer can implement to give themselves a better night’s sleep.
With seven million people suffering from acid reflux in America, WebMD asked some of the best known sleep experts what they suggest to reduce nighttime acid reflux symptoms.
The most common response? Sleep with your upper body elevated so the stomach acids don’t have an opportunity to flow upwards through the esophagus. You can put the head of your mattress on 4-6 inch blocks or, as Harvard Medical School suggests, you can find yourself a sleep wedge at your mattress store or maternity shop since heartburn occurs often during pregnancy. Another suggestion is a quality adjustable bed which you can angle to a position that’s most comfortable for you. Ask a Sleep Specialist at Mattress World to suggest one that fits your budget.
Another suggestion is to sleep on your left side, according to David Johnson, MD, the internal medicine division chief at Eastern Virginia School of Medicine, who says this position helps reduce heartburn.
The Cleveland Clinic says to finish your last meal of the day a good three to four hours before heading off to sleep. Harvard Medical School expands on that by suggesting a walk in the neighborhood or some other type of easy movement, even vacuuming or doing the laundry.
Interestingly, smokers have more problems with acid reflux and heartburn than non-smokers. Cigarette smoke acts as an irritant on the gastrointestinal tract and also over-relaxes the esophageal muscles, which keep stomach acids in their proper place. Smokers might try chewing gum instead that encourages saliva production which in turn washes stomach acids out of the GI tract.
If you’re an acid reflux and heartburn sufferer, come see the Sleep Specialists at Mattress World – the largest mattress retailer in Oregon — and discuss what sleep solutions make the most sense for you.