Is the Way You Sleep Giving You Heartburn?

Daily Mail (London), May 17, 2011 | Go to article overview

Is the Way You Sleep Giving You Heartburn?


Byline: BY ANNA DUNLOP

WE SPEND a third of our lives asleep, yet while it's accepted that sleep is good for health, many people don't realise it's not just the quality and quantity of sleep that matters -- it's also the position you adopt.

With around 95 per cent of the population sleeping in the same position every night, here the experts reveal the health pros and cons of your favourite posture .

RECOVERY POSITION

GOOD FOR: Acid reflux BAD FOR: Wrinkles

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Known as the recovery position because it's similar to the posture used in medical emergencies, this can help reduce acid reflux and aid indigestion, says Jim Horne, a professor of psychophysiology and a sleep specialist. These conditions are collectively referred to as gastrooesophageal reflux disease and occur when stomach acid splashes up the oesophagus (the tube that carries food from the mouth down to the stomach). This leaking acid is caused by a weakness at the junction between the stomach and the oesophagus, and triggers the burning pain. The key is to sleep on your left side.

In a study of heartburn patients at the Graduate Hospital, Philadelphia, doctors found that sleeping on the right side meant that leaked stomach acid took longer to drain out of the oesophagus compared to sleeping on the left, so those who slept on their right side suffered more discomfort.

The medics were unsure about the reason behind this effect.

But though it could relieve a painful stomach, sleeping on your side could worsen wrinkles.

Dr Dennis Wolf, a cosmetic surgeon, explains that it puts increased pressure on the nasolabial folds that run from the corners of the nose to the sides of the mouth -- known as laughter lines.

Depending on the side you usually sleep on, the laughter line on this side of the face may well be deeper and more pronounced, a result of the face being squashed against the pillow.

ACTION: If sleeping on your left side doesn't help, and heartburn and indigestion are still proving a problem, prop up the head of your bed slightly, so that the upper body is higher than the stomach. This can help reduce acid reflux when sleeping, as gravity keeps the acid in the stomach.

According to Dr Wolf, there has been some discussion that a silk pillow can help to reduce wrinkles caused by pressure when sleeping, as silk is softer than other materials. However, this has not been proven.

THE CORPSE

GOOD FOR: Arthritis BAD FOR: Asthma, snoring, sleep apnoea, heart health

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY: Sleeping on your back is a good option for those who suffer from arthritis and joint pain, says Sammy Margo, chartered physiotherapist and author of the Good Sleep Guide. This is because sleeping on your back distributes weight evenly throughout the body, without putting strain on any specific area. However, the same sleep position is well known to aggravate snoring. In this position, the muscles in the jaw and tongue are relaxed, and the jaw and throat sag under the influence of gravity.

This causes the throat to become narrower, producing air turbulence which leads to vibration and snoring, says Dr John Shneerson, director of the Sleep Centre at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge.

This is particularly true of overweight adults, where the weight of extra fat in the front of the neck will exaggerate the sagging of the throat.

Sleep apnoea is a more serious condition where the throat closes off completely, leading to intermittent pauses in breathing which last for ten seconds or more.

Again, this is exacerbated by sleeping on the back, due to the action of gravity on the throat.

'Research has shown that those who sleep on their backs are more likely to have decreased oxygen levels in their bloodstream, which is a particular concern in patients with heart and lung problems,' says Dr David Eccleston, a GP specialising in sleep problems. …

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