Does your heartburn keep you up at night? A wedge pillow might be just what you need, according to a sleep expert.
Some 15 million Americans deal with heartburn every day–and the uncomfortable, burning sensation doesn't just go away when it's time to go to bed. According to the National Sleep Foundation, people with nighttime heartburn are more likely than their heartburn-free peers to report sleep issues like insomnia, apnea, and tiredness during the day.
Quick refresher: The uncomfortable feeling known as heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux, when stomach juices erroneously flow backwards out of your gut and into your esophagus. When that reflux is a chronic, long-term condition, doctors call it GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease. If you have heartburn regularly, say, two to three times a week, it's possible you might have GERD, says Rajkumar Dasgupta, MD, a sleep and pulmonary physician at the University of Southern California.
Because stomach acid really doesn't belong in your esophagus, it can damage the tissue there, making it important to examine the potential underlying causes of your reflux and talk to a doctor about what you can do about it. (You definitely need to make a trip to a doc if your reflux is accompanied by so-called "alarm symptoms" like anemia, weight loss, vomiting, or difficulty or pain while swallowing, Dr. Dasgupta adds.)
But if your heartburn is more of an occasional thing, there are a handful of at-home steps you can take to keep the uncomfortable symptoms at bay, says Dr. Dasgupta, also a fellow of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Most of these healthy habits, he explains, have to do with a little lid-type valve between the stomach and the esophagus called the lower esophageal sphincter. In a non-refluxer, the LES prevents any acid from leaving the stomach and making its way to the esophagus. But sometimes it misbehaves.
For example, he says, people with extra weight in their midsection or pregnant folks have extra pressure on that valve, which can lead to more reflux. Nicotine and alcohol can relax the LES, he adds, leading to reflux. Even wearing too-tight clothing–or in this case, PJs–can up the pressure on your belly enough to send acid upwards.
And so can gravity. If you're lying flat on your back, acid might trickle up the esophagus. But sleeping on a bit of an incline–enough to make sure your chest is above your abdomen–can make gravity work in your favor, instead. How to do that comfortably? Wedge pillows. While it may not be the most scientific solution, Dr. Dasgupta says, it's certainly something anyone can try.
Want to give it a go yourself and see if a wedge pillow eases your heartburn symptoms? We've rounded up some of the top-selling and highest-rated picks on Amazon. Sweet, heartburn-free dreams!
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