gastroesophageal reflux disease

If you wake up coughing and experience a burning in the chest, you a likely suffering from GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) or, more commonly, acid reflux. Acid reflux affects six to seven percent of the world population and is commonly dismissed as heartburn.


Main symptoms of GERD are heartburn, acidic regurgitation, inflamed gums, chronic bad breath and belching. Because of acid buildup in the body, it is not uncommon for tooth enamel to deteriorate.

Some individuals may not experience any symptoms at all. Many of the symptoms of GERD may be confused with heart problems, therefore misdiagnosis is common.

Those with acid reflux symptoms should also be tested for sleep apnea as the disorders seem to occur simultaneously, especially in overweight individuals. Traveling may also increase GERD symptoms. Fifty percent of travelers say that in addition to jet lag they suffer from gastrointestinal issues. This is possibly due to eating during times you would normally be sleeping.

Overcoming GERD

  • Elevate the upper body during sleep. This can be done with special wedge pillows, adding blocks under the mattress or purchasing an adjustable bed.
  • Do not lie down immediately after eating a large meal.
  • Avoid eating within three hours of bedtime. This is recommended for all individuals who experience trouble sleeping.
  • Avoid foods and beverages that increase acid in the stomach such as chocolate, onions, spicy food, citrus fruits, soft drinks, alcohol, caffeine, vinegar, ketchup, mustard, and fatty foods.
  • Some medications are calcium-channel blockers such as aspirin and other pain killers, which can worsen acid reflux symptoms.3 Check with your doctor before stopping any medications.
  • Do not wear nightclothes that fit tightly around the chest, stomach or waist as they can irritate GERD symptoms.
  • Laying on the left side of the body has been proven to help with digestion. 3
  • Smoking may irritate symptoms and cause other sleep disruptions.
  • Chewing gum in the evening can increase saliva production. Saliva counteracts stomach acid.
  • If overweight, losing weight may be the best way to reduce symptoms.
  • Treatments include over-the-counter medications, prescription medications and antacids that prevent acid buildup and help to heal the esophagus. Surgery typically follows if medications do not prove effective.

Acid reflux is among the main causes of disturbed sleep in middle-aged individuals. 1 While inconvenient, GERD is not an unmanageable disorder. Simple lifestyle changes can reduce painful symptoms as well as more intensive medication use or surgery.


1. Maas, Dr. James B., Megan L. Wherry, David J Axelrod, Barbara R. Hogan, and Jennifer A. Blumin. Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program That Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. New York : Villard, 1998.

2. WebMD—Tips for Sleep without Heartburn;