Acid reflux robs you of valuable sleep. This unpalatable condition occurs when the contents of your stomach splash backwards into your oesophagus. A trademark burning sensation in the chest usually accompanies reflux. Unfortunately, this common digestive complaint affects a large portion of the adult population. Seven in ten Australians suffer from acid reflux or heartburn at some stage. The most commonly experienced symptoms include:
- Burning sensation in your stomach, abdomen, chest or throat – often called heartburn
- Regurgitation of stomach acid into your throat or mouth
- Sour taste in the back of your mouth
- Irrepressible hiccups that cannot be stopped
- Continual burping and bloating
Chronic reflux may lead to difficulty in swallowing. At times it can even trigger respiratory issues such as asthma.
Within the acid reflux family, there are several different types;
- Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux (GOR) – this is a normal though annoying occurrence for people of all ages. Healthy infants, kids and adults can all experience GOR during and immediately after meals. 1 in 5 Australian adults experience heartburn or regurgitation at least once a week.
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) – this a chronic digestive disease occurs when acid reflux fluid flows back into your food pipe (oesophagus) and irritates its sensitive lining. GERD is usually found to be present when symptoms occur more than twice a week, interfere with your day-to-day life and damage to your oesophagus occurs. GERD is one of the most common medical problems reported in Australia with an estimated national prevalence of around nine per cent.
- Supraesophageal reflux disease (SERD) – this occurs when the backward flow of gastric fluid splashes up to the upper oesophageal sphincter (UES) and into the laryngopharynx and upper aerodigestive tract. SERD is linked to several respiratory symptoms, such as throat clearing, coughing, asthma, sinusitis, sleep disturbance and much more.
It suffices to say that acid reflux and heartburn in whatever form it strikes is heartily unwelcome yet an all too common occurrence. Not surprisingly, most sufferers of acid reflux experience sleep disturbance as an offshoot of the attack. But sleep can actually be a time of relief and recovery from acid reflux.
Recent studies have found a definite link between bed elevation and the improvement of all forms of acid reflux.
Head-of-bed elevation has been found to be effective because lying flat tends to cause stomach acid to reflux into the oesophagus. By contrast, sleeping with your head and upper body raised brings gravity into the equation. So those who practice elevated sleeping tend to have:
- Fewer and shorter reflux attacks
- More rapid clearing of acid
- Diminished reflux symptoms
One such study included 235 patients, 113 of whom experienced reflux. The majority of patients (55%) only demonstrated reflux when lying flat. The study repeatedly monitored pH levels in those patients who experienced reflux when lying down. The pH of these patients were then monitored with their head-of-bed elevated by six inches. Cross-analysis of the pH levels showed that head-of-bed elevated resolved reflux symptoms in 62% of the patients.
As a result, the study drew two chief conclusions:
- SERD (and acid reflux) occurs most frequently when patients are lying down
- Head-of-bed elevation is efficient in treating the symptoms of SERD (and acid reflux)
Acid reflux and heartburn can be a painful and troublesome condition. Yet simple lifestyle interventions often hold the key to relief of symptoms. One of the most highly endorsed and scientifically-backed lifestyle measures is elevated sleeping. If sleepless or restless nights are repeating on you courtesy of acid reflux, quell the burn and sleep deprivation. Try elevating your head and upper body while you sleep. There are many innovative adjustable bed solutions that do all the hard work for you. Automated remote-controlled adjustable beds mean you experience all the benefits of elevated sleeping minus the hassle of fussing with pillows or attempting to create your own home-spun elevation.
The Digestive Health Foundation. Clinical update: Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease in adults. Gastroenterological Society of Australia, 2011.
Therapeutic Guidelines Limited. Therapeutic Guidelines: Gastrointestinal. Therapeutic Guidelines Limited, 2014.
Britt H, Miller G, Henderson J, et al. BEACH: Bettering the Evaluation and Care of Health. General Practice Series. 2013.
Knox SA, Harrison CM, Britt HC, et al. Estimating prevalence of common chronic morbidities in Australia. Med J Aust 2008;189:66-70.
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. “Silent Reflux” Symptoms Reduced By Raising The Head-Of-Bed. Published Online: January 16, 2015
Joel E. Richter, MD, Section Editor. Advances in GERD: Current Developments in the Management of Acid-Related GI Disorders. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2009 Sep; 5(9): 613–615.