Gastroesophageal reflux disease, which is commonly referred to as GERD, has been deemed a common cause of insomnia and sleeplessness. The heartburn sensation this disease often triggers may prevent you from feeling comfortable and falling asleep in a timely manner. As a result, you may go on to experience other health problems associated with lack of sleep, such as fatigue, irritability, difficulty with concentrating, hormonal imbalance, overeating, and more.
One in four people who experience sleeping problems reveal that heartburn prevents them from being able to sleep. Additionally, three out of four people who suffer from GERD report sleep problems related to heartburn. When your body fails to get the amount of sleep it needs on a consistent basis, your risk for more serious complications can arise if you suffer from GERD, such as dyspepsia, erosive esophagitis, and esophageal cancer.
How GERD can disturb sleep
Medical researchers have learned that GERD can disturb sleep in a number of different ways. In most cases, the pain caused by heartburn can arouse a person from a deep sleep, or trigger fits of coughing and choking. Some patients wake up as a result of experiencing regurgitation, which is when a small amount of stomach acid rises up through the esophagus and into the mouth. GERD is also a risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea, since refluxed stomach acid can sometimes block airways and prevent air from reaching the lungs.
GERD can disturb sleep mainly because when you lie flat on your bed, stomach acid has the ability to flow back up into your esophagus more easily.
Sleeping more peacefully with GERD
If you suffer from GERD, you may be able to resolve sleeping problems by changing your sleeping position. Avoid sleeping on your back as much as possible, especially if you are overweight. When you sleep on your back, the excess weight of your stomach can put excess pressure on your organs and increase the possibility of stomach acid flowing upward into your esophagus. Instead, try sleeping on your left side. The left side can reduce acid reflux, since your right side is home to the ring of muscle that connects your stomach to your esophagus. Sleeping on your right side can cause your esophageal sphincter to relax and increase the risk for acid reflux.
Also, try elevating the head of your bed by about six to eight inches to prevent your stomach acid from refluxing into your esophagus. Use one or two extra pillows to achieve the elevation needed to help you sleep better.
Finally, eat dinner or your last meal about three or four hours before going to bed. Three or four hours is enough time to allow your body to fully process and digest your meal — lowering your risk for acid reflux when you lie down to go to sleep. Alternately, you could eat a lighter meal that won’t sit as heavily in your stomach. For example, eat a moderately sized chicken or tuna salad for dinner instead of a large cut of steak with bread, potatoes, and dessert.
CarePoint Health provides patients with care delivered by the area’s best and most dedicated doctors, nurses, hospitals and medical staff, with focus on preventive medicine, health care education, and disease management. To learn more about gastrointestinal health, contact CarePoint Health at 1-877-791-7000 or request an appointment online at our website.
Content on our website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911. Always consult your physician before making any changes to your medical treatment.