The Link Between Insomnia and GERD

A recent study has uncovered a significant relationship between gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and sleep disturbances. According to the study, the relationship may be bidirectional with sleep disorders serving to induce gastrointestinal disturbances and GI issues or symptoms acting to worsen the problem of fragmented sleep.

The study, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease and Sleep Disorders: Evidence for a Causal Link and Therapeutic Implications, was conducted by Dr. Hey-kyung Jung of Ewha Womans University School of Medicine in Seoul Korea, Dr. Rok Seon Choung of Enteric Neuroscience Program and Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, May Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, MN, and Dr. Nicholas J. Talley of the Enteric Neuroscience Program and Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Jacksonville, FL.

The study discovered that among those who visit primary care providers for sleep disturbances, 50 percent present with other conditions such as gastrointestinal problems along with chronic insomnia. Patients who complain of frequent heartburn often report difficulties in either initiation or maintaining sleep throughout the night.

This is actually one of three independent studies exploring the link between sleep interruptions and GERD. With more than 40 percent of the U.S. population experiencing GERD and 75 percent of those experiencing nighttime GERD, the costs of treatment and potential long-term health risks, including Barrett’s esophagus and cancer, are substantial.

Sleeping Pills and Reflux

One study, authored by Dr. Anthony J. DiMarino Jr., of Thomas Jefferson University, suggests that Ambien (zolpidem), a commonly prescribed sleeping pill, may worsen nocturnal acid reflux symptoms. In these instances, the patients were able to sleep through the reflux symptoms leading to increased risks for further complications and progressions resulting from the reflux.

89 percent of study participants taking placebo sleeping pills, even those who do not have GERD, were roused during the night due to acid reflux, while only 40 percent of those who did take the zolpidem were roused as a result of reflux. The study also recorded the duration of reflux events. Those who were given placebos had acid reflux events that were all under a minute while the events lasted between four and seven minutes for those who took zolpidem.

Other Factors to Consider

While insomnia is linked to an increased risk of GERD, sleep apnea seems to have no association with GERD. Among patients who suffer from insomnia, though, the risk for GERD was 3.5 times greater than those who did not have insomnia. Mood is another factor to consider as those who suffer from depression or depressed moods have a 2.8 times greater likelihood of suffering from GERD.

An inability to get enough sleep is highly detrimental to daytime functioning and long-term health. Look for ways to eliminate stress and prevent acid reflux during sleep, including by reducing reduce consumption foods that inflames GERD, sleeping with your head elevated, avoiding eating before bed, and considering lifestyle changes to eliminate GERD so you can get the sleep you need at night.

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