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Sleep-related Reflux (Heartburn)

Sleep-related gastroesophageal reflux, commonly called acid reflux, or heartburn, occurs weekly in an estimated one in five adults in the United States. In people with acid reflux, acid from the stomach flows back into the esophagus, and sometimes up to the throat and vocal cords. 

In waking hours, people with this disorder frequently have heartburn, chest discomfort, and a bitter taste in the mouth. When acid reflux occurs in sleep, these individuals may experience heartburn, coughing, or choking. As a result, they often sleep poorly. They may report having both insomnia and daytime sleepiness.

They also may suffer from bad breath, frequent belching, a chronic sore throat, erosion of tooth enamel, and gum inflammation. Acid reflux is a potential trigger for asthma. It often occurs in people with obstructive sleep apnea.

Acid reflux is a chronic disease, and rarely disappears. Lifestyle changes can help reduce its frequency and annoying symptoms.

Treatment for acid reflux

  • Watch your diet. Certain foods and beverages may make acid reflux worse. These include fatty and fried foods, onions, chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol. Adjust your diet as necessary to minimize your symptoms.
  • Lose weight if indicated.
  • Try over-the-counter heartburn remedies.

See your healthcare provider if these strategies don’t help. He or she may prescribe medication to block production of an enzyme needed to produce stomach acid or to coat mucous membranes, forming a barrier against stomach acid. You may be advised to take your medication at a specific time of day, in relation to your sleep, to maximize the medication’s benefit.

If acid reflux is severe, your doctor may recommend surgery to tighten muscles that keep acid from entering the lower part of the esophagus.