Sleep and Reflux

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD, more commonly known as heartburn, can significantly impact sleep. Most individuals who suffer from GERD, both day and night, complain of symptoms being worse at night. Their primary complaint is that GERD leads to delay in sleep onset. It takes heartburn sufferers longer to fall asleep. Once asleep, acid reflux into the esophagus can cause sleep fragmentation. Because of this, people with GERD often complain of excessive daytime sleepiness.

GERD is made worse in sleep because of people’s sleeping positions. During wakefulness, gravity helps keep the acids in the stomach. However, when lying down, the acids may leak back into the esophagus.

Sleep Disordered Breathing and GERD

Recent research has investigated the link between GERD and Sleep Disordered Breathing (SDB). Some researchers have thought that the increased effort of breathing that occurs in SDB may actually pull up the acids from the stomach and cause heartburn. Others have speculated that acid reflux might actually lead to disrupted breathing, with the acids causing spasms of the vocal cords.

It is known, however, that GERD becomes more prevalent as people age and is very common in obese individuals. Research studies have shown that symptoms of GERD can be alleviated with nasal CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure), which is the gold standard therapy for SDB. Therefore, successful CPAP therapy is a win-win situation as that will help improve breathing at night and reduce reflux. That will then lead to better sleep.

6 Ways to Prevent GERD

There are a number of ways people can treat or prevent GERD. There are lifestyle and dietary changes, as well as medications that can help. Here are some tips:

  1. Avoid acidic foods (tomato products, grapefruit, etc.).
  2. Avoid high fat foods.
  3. Maintain a regular eating schedule.
  4. Sleep with an extra pillow under your head to elevate the body.
  5. Sleep with your CPAP if you have been diagnosed with Sleep Apnea.
  6. Over the counter antacid medication can help.