Sleeping head elevated lets gravity help your reflux.
GERD patients frequently complain about their symptoms interfering with their ability to get a good night’s sleep. So one of the first lifestyle modifications GERD patients receive is to sleep inclined. This seemingly simple recommendation supports weakened anatomy by taking advantage of gravitational forces during sleep—it holds contents in the stomach. As I have learned, sleeping head elevated easier said than done.
I was walking the floor at the 2013 Digestive Disease Week meeting in Orlando, Florida and saw a very interesting product called Gravity1st–an elevated sleep system that is an inflatable mattress. Being a GERD nerd, I couldn’t resist the chance to talk to another one. The attendees were in sessions so there was time to get the whole story from inventor.
Meet Kelli Minson, a Certified Surgical First Assistantand CSFA and wife of a GERD patient with atypical symptoms, who invented the Gravity1st Elevated Sleep System Mattress.
In this video, Kelli explains how Gravity1st got started—it’s a really dramatic story!
Q1: The way your husband (an anesthesiologist) was diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease was quite dramatic and uncommon. Looking back, do you remember any situations that might have been an early warning?
KM: The short answer is “NO.” Matt had no symptoms at all, that we knew of! After talking extensively with the ER physician, we found out that Matt’s reoccurring sinus infection (about 3 times a year) was a warning sign. Matt would also occasionally wake up and be hoarse, not sick, just hoarse. He also had a chronic cough in the morning, two or 3 days a week as well. ALL of these, we later learned, are symptoms of REFLUX!!
Q2: Until I met you, I didn’t appreciate the nuances of sleeping head elevated 7 inches. Explain why someone with GERD who’s been told to sleep head elevated at a 30% incline can’t just sleep sitting up or propped on pillows?
KM: Lucky for us, before we left the emergency room, the doctor explained why sleeping (bent in the middle, or propped up on pillows) can actually make reflux worse. He said “think of it this way: at the top of your stomach, there is a valve called the LES or lower esophageal sphincter. That valve, because of your reflux, has become weakened over time and no longer closes tightly, the way it is supposed to keeping the stomach contents down in your stomach where it belongs. Because it is weak, every time you lay down flat it allows stomach acid (which is VERY corrosive and damaging) to flow back up into your esophagus. Over time, this is the repetitive process that can permanently damage your esophagus and even cause esophageal cancer.” That was it, that terrible word that no one wants to hear, EVER–CANCER!
Matt held up a note (because he had just been scoped and could not talk) that read: “My grandfather died from esophageal cancer.” That was all the motivation I needed to learn everything I could about this horrible, sometimes deadly disease. The one thing that kept popping up in what seemed like every paper or report or journal that I read was this: Doctors recommend head elevated sleeping and losing weight as the top two lifestyle changes, because they are the most successful. In a Johns Hopkins report from 2-25-2008, I read these words and they changed our life: Researches looked at 100 independent studies on lifestyle changes for reflux and found that ONLY head elevated sleeping and losing weight showed clear benefits in well designed studies. There it was—head elevated sleeping—over and over and over again. Matt is 6’3 and 206 pounds, very lean, runs and works out every day, he had no weight to lose, it was as simple as elevating him (in a straight line from head to toe) when he slept.
Q3: I noticed on your Gravity1st website that the model is photographed on her back, side and front. Do people notice that they are sleeping head elevated any normal sleeping positions?
KM: One of the greatest benefits of the incline plane that Gravity1st provides, is that people can sleep in their normal sleeping position, whatever that may be. Gravity1st doesn’t force you to sleep on your back, like a short wedge does. You also don’t wake up with your feet hanging off the end of the bed like you eventually do on a short wedge. Side, back, stomach it doesn’t matter. On Gravity1st you are always head elevated to the doctor recommended 7″ or 30 degree angle, and it enough of an incline to keep the stomach contents from rising up into the esophagus.
Q4: This blog by and for GERD nerds; however, I suspect that there are other benefits for sleeping on the Gravity1st Sleep System. What are some practical and creative ideas that make this a win for the non-GERD suffering bed partner?
KM: How do I count the ways? Gravity1st comes in 4 sizes, Twin, Full, Queen and King. You simply buy the size of the bed you currently sleep in. In the case of a couple, one of them a non-reflux sleeper, if you have a King size bed you can buy a twin size Gravity1st which is exactly half the size of a king size mattress and your partner is not forced to sleep on an incline. I’ve actually had customers who did just this, but after their partner tried our product, they switched to a king size. Mostly because they were so comfortable, but also because sleeping head elevated is beneficial for other health issues as well. Things like sinus and allergy drainage, low back pain, pregnancy discomfort, cold and flu symptoms. Let’s face it, when you have a cold or the flu, you always feel better on the couch, propped up on a bunch of pillows, because it allows your head to drain better. We’ve all done it! However, if you stop and really think about it – you don’t sleep very well on the couch, it’s not your normal sleeping position and sometimes you feel worse for having spent the night on the couch. Imagine getting rid of that stuffy head feeling without having to camp out on the couch in the middle of the living room (infecting everyone else in the family) while sleeping in what feels like a perfectly reclined position. That is what Gravity1st does! We love ours so much that we keep one in a storage ottoman in the living room when we watch movies; it’s much more comfortable than lying down on the couch to watch TV, especially if we have just eaten a late supper and want to relax. GERD patients are told that you should NOT lay down right after eating. The recommendation is to wait at least 3 hours after eating before lying down. Well if you didn’t get to eat dinner until 8 or 9 PM, most people don’t want to stay up until midnight before lying down. With a Gravity1st mattress on your bed, you don’t have to wait because you will still be head elevated when you lay down.
I have a lot of customers tell me that they originally purchased their Gravity1st mattress for Acid Reflux, but after sleeping on it for a while they noticed other benefits. The most common benefit is that their lower back pain seems to be reduced. That is because the incline of the Gravity1st mattress elongates your spine while you are lying down, it’s just gravity pulling down on your lower body and taking the pressure off of the lower spine. It feels wonderful. Customers also report that their allergy drainage is improved and they have fewer sinus infections.
Q5: I love that the aesthetics of your original “MacGyver” solution drove you to think about another way to accomplish the head elevated sleeping position. How long did it take for you to go from original prototype to the first product you put on the market?
KM: When I first rolled up the living room rug and placed two metal shelves with one end on the rug and the other end on the floor, and then topped it off with our camping mattress, I never thought it would lead to this. I only remember that every morning while Matt was in the shower, I had about 20 minutes to dis-assemble my makeshift incline sleep arrangements so that he could get out the door to go to work. I was looking at it from the kitchen one morning, (a side view) and it just occurred to me that if the camping mattress were just shaped like a big wedge of cheese, and if it were king sized, well, I could just put it on top of our bed and in the morning I could just deflate it and make the bed normally and it would not look funny. I always tell people, the incline was all for Matt, the fact that it deflates and disappears in the morning, totally for ME! Being inflatable also has other benefits because Matt travels quite a bit and his carry-on IS his Gravity1st mattress. The twin size fits perfectly in a carry on travel bag and he never leaves home without it. Reflux is always going to be part of our lives but now we don’t worry about Matt developing esophageal cancer. His last check-up showed no signs of damage to his esophagus and his reflux is completely under control. Matt does not take Rx meds for his reflux or OTC drugs either. He simply sleeps head elevated on a Gravity1st mattress, if he is lying down, he’s on a Gravity1st!!
If you or someone you know has acid reflux, know the facts, see your doctor and make simple lifestyle changes that could save your life. Reflux is a serious disease that affects over 70 million people in the US and it is the #1 cause of esophageal cancer. We have lots of good advice on our website www.Gravity1st.com and we have other resources listed on our site as well.
Kelli: Thanks for providing a few more insights to our audience of GERD nerds. Your passion for this product makes you a GERD nerd as well.
Kelli was kind enough to give a video interview at DDW to Kevin our resident roving reporter.
Debbie Donovan is in the marketing department and is editor of this blog. She’s also managing the GERDHelp social media channels where we post hot stories on heartburn, acid reflux, GERD, Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer. Deb ice skates and likes routines with fancy footwork and spins.
Kevin Skruch is in the training department in a role that includes capturing and editing video clips for a variety of professional education projects (he interviewed Kelli at DDW). Kevin is a global trotter and avid photographer–the multimedia scrapbooks he assembles make you feel like you were on the trip.