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Categories > Digestive Disorders > GERD

The impossible dream?

What you wouldn’t give for a good night’s sleep. But for reasons you’re not quite sure of, shut-eye remains elusive.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, talk with your healthcare provider. Your problems could signal an underlying health condition that needs to be treated. Here are some of the most common causes of sleep disturbances and what you can do about them:


In moderate amounts, caffeine is safe for most people. But for some, even a little caffeine can keep them awake at night. Caffeine is a stimulant. Cut back if you find caffeine is affecting your sleep. The pick-me-up is found in coffee, tea, chocolate and in some pain relievers and cold medications.

Get relief

  • Consume no more than 300 to 400 milligrams of caffeine—three or four cups of coffee—a day, less if you know you’re sensitive to it.
  • Cut back slowly to avoid headaches and feelings of tiredness and irritability. Start by substituting one drink a week with a caffeine-free counterpart, then slowly replace others.

Acid reflux

That burning feeling in your chest may just be heartburn, but if it occurs more than twice a week it might be gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. It occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle doesn’t close correctly and allows stomach contents to back up into the esophagus. In some cases, you may not even notice the symptoms, but they’ll disrupt your sleep cycle.

Get relief

  • Avoid citrus fruits, chocolate, caffeine, fried or fatty foods, garlic, onions, mint flavorings, spicy foods and tomato-based foods, all of which can make the problem worse.
  • Quit smoking; lose weight; wear loose-fitting clothes; eat smaller meals; avoid lying down for three hours after a meal; and raise the head of your bed six to eight inches using blocks of wood.
  • Over-the-counter antacids like Maalox or Tums may help, but some people need prescription or over-the-counter medications such as H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors.
  • Still no relief? Talk with your healthcare provider about your options. Surgery can help strengthen a weakened LES muscle.

Restless legs syndrome (RLS)

RLS sufferers are tired and cranky thanks to the intense urge to move a limb when lying down to sleep. RLS causes sensations of tingling, itching, cramping or burning in your limbs. Relief only comes when you move. Low iron levels and chronic diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s and peripheral neuropathy—a problem with the nerves that relay information to and from the brain and spinal cord—are sometimes to blame.

Get relief

  • Ask your healthcare provider about taking a supplement, which could correct nutritional deficiencies in iron, folate and magnesium. People with these deficiencies may be more prone to RLS.
  • Cut back on caffeine, alcohol and tobacco, which can trigger RLS symptoms.
  • Engage in regular exercise, but don’t overdo it, as this may aggravate your symptoms.
  • Take a hot bath, massage your legs or use hot or cold packs.
  • Talk with your provider about medications. Some, including ropinirole, have been used to treat Parkinson’s and may provide relief.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)

In OSA, tissue in the back of your throat collapses, blocking your airway, so you snore heavily and briefly stop breathing several times a night. Excessive daytime drowsiness, poor judgment, memory loss, irritability, high blood pressure, depression and morning headaches can all point to OSA. Your healthcare provider can do a sleep test to make the diagnosis.

Get relief

  • Lose weight. Dropping just 10 pounds can make a huge difference.
  • Sleep on your side if you find that you snore more on your back.
  • Skip alcohol, caffeine and big meals two hours before bed.
  • Avoid sedatives, which can relax your throat muscles and lead to obstruction.
  • Ask your healthcare provider about an oral appliance to keep your jaw in place and your tongue forward and out of the way.
  • Seek out CPAP. A fitted mask goes over your nose and keeps a constant flow of air to keep the airway from collapsing.
  • Look into surgery to change the palate shape or keep the tongue in place.