How Does GERD Affect Sleep?

As many as 20% of adults in the United States experiences symptoms of GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease. This chronic disorder affects your esophagus, a muscular tube that connects your throat to your stomach.

GERD is a condition characterized by chronic acid reflux, chest pain, and a sour taste in your mouth and throat. GERD sufferers often experience symptoms at night, interrupting sleep and interfering with their ability to function the next day. Nighttime GERD can actually cause more intense, unpleasant symptoms than GERD symptoms experienced during the day.

Board-certified gastroenterologist Bharat Pothuri, MD provides his expertise when it comes to helping you manage your GERD so you can get a better night of sleep. Here’s what you should know about GERD and sleep and how we can help.

Nighttime GERD may be more intense than daytime GERD

GERD symptoms can awaken you in the middle of the night. In addition to heartburn that causes burning and pain in your chest, you may also feel stomach acid back up into your throat and larynx (vocal cords). You may wake up coughing and choking.

People who experience nighttime reflux are also more likely to experience greater complications of GERD, like inflammation of the esophagus, cancer of the esophagus, and Barrett’s esophagus.

Why GERD may be worse at night

Bedtime creates the perfect circumstances for a flare-up of reflux.

First, GERD may be worse at night simply due to your position. When you lie down, gravity no longer pulls your stomach acid downward. The acid more easily refluxes back up into your esophagus, causing heartburn and other unpleasant symptoms.

Second, when you go to sleep, you also swallow less. Swallowing is an important function that pushes stomach acid downward. During sleep, you produce very little saliva, especially during the deepest stages of sleep. Saliva is an important neutralizer of stomach acid. 

Poor quality sleep affects your quality of life

People who have nighttime GERD symptoms tend to have a poorer quality of life than those who have daytime symptoms only. Frequent awakenings due to chest and throat pain means less quality sleep and leads to daytime fatigue.

If you’re tired, your performance at work may suffer. You also risk injury while operating machinery or vehicles.

GERD has also been linked to obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in your breathing that awaken you during slumber. GERD may cause your airway to become inflamed or blocked, so it’s hard to breathe normally. This causes you to awaken when you aren’t getting enough oxygen to the brain.

How to sleep better with GERD

For starters, it’s best to avoid eating close to bedtime. Wait a few hours after eating before retiring to help minimize GERD symptoms in the night.

Spending less time in bed before falling asleep also seems to reduce the severity of GERD symptoms during sleep. The longer you spend awake in bed, the greater chance that acid regurgitates and irritates your throat and chest. When you head to bed, do so to sleep, rather than read or watch television.

If you have GERD and it’s interfering with your life and sleep, make an appointment at GastroDoxs. Dr. Pothuri and our team can help you find relief with dietary changes, medications, lifestyle recommendations, and perhaps even surgery, in serious cases. Call our office in Cypress, Texas, or use the online tool to schedule.

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