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Acid Reflux Causing Insomnia: Treatment Options

by Dale Cudmore | Updated: Jul 21, 2021

It’s not surprising that a burning feeling in your chest or throat can make sleeping more difficult.

The discomfort is usually caused by acid reflux (or possibly GERD), which is where stomach acid flows back up your esophagus.

There’s no instant cure, but there are some things that can help limit symptoms of insomnia caused by acid reflux.

Is Acid Reflux or GERD Known To Cause Insomnia?

This isn’t exactly the most studied topic, but there is some research that shows a fairly significant link between insomnia and GERD.

One study found that about 25% of patients with insomnia also had GERD symptoms (1).

Additionally, a U.S. national health and wellness study found that of patients with GERD, 88.9% of them experienced symptoms at night (2). In other words, people with regular acid reflux problems will almost always have issues at night, which will affect sleep.

The symptoms seen in these studies included coughing, choking, and discomfort.

These make it difficult to get to sleep, but also lead to frequent wake-ups during the night.

SummaryAcid reflux is known to cause sleep issues, and even insomnia if it occurs frequently. Symptoms are typically worse at night, especially when lying down.

Quick Ways to Reduce Acid Reflux During Sleep To Prevent Insomnia

There’s no quick fix to the problem itself. If you have GERD or chronic acid reflux, you’ll need to see a doctor and figure out the root cause of it.

However, in the meantime until you can schedule an appointment, there are a few short term approaches you could try to reduce the amount of sleep issues you have.

Try a More Upright Sleeping Position

Sleeping sitting up may not be the most comfortable, but it uses gravity to help keep stomach acid from traveling up your throat.

As a bit of a compromise, there are wedge-shaped pillows that allow you to sleep on an angle in relative comfort.

Sleep On Your Left Side

Your stomach isn’t perfectly centered, refer to the picture below.

The connection from your esophagus to your stomach faces more towards the right side of your body.

So if you sleep on your left side, gravity again helps keep acid in your stomach and out of your throat.

Avoid Eating Close to Sleeping

I don’t regularly get acid reflux, but when I do it’s usually from eating too much bread, which happens occasionally.

What I’ve found is that even when eating the same amount, when I finish eating early in the day (i.e. Noon-2pm), I have no significant sleep issues from acid reflux.

Conversely, if I finish around 7pm or later, I have a lot of trouble sleeping because of acid reflux. In general eating before bed makes insomnia symptoms more likely.

SummaryAvoid even small snacks before bed time, and finish eating as early in the day as possible, without causing you to feel really hungry at night (which could also make sleep difficult).

Finding The Underlying Cause of Your Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is not “normal” in healthy individuals.

If it’s something you get often, see a doctor and figure out what’s causing it. You’ll need to fix it before your sleep issues resolve. Even a strong sleeping pill won’t help sleep quality if GERD is present (3).

The most common risk factors for GERD are:

  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Taking certain medications (even aspirin)
  • Eating certain foods

When it comes to foods that trigger acid reflux, there’s a really wide variety of foods that can possibly cause issues (4):

  • High fat foods
  • High carbohydrate foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Salty foods
  • Chocolate
  • Mint
  • Citrus fruits
  • Fried foods

Certain types of diets contain more of these than others.

SummaryFor people who get acid reflux only once in a while, the cause may be as simple as eating too much of a certain food. Regular acid reflux may have an underlying cause that needs to be corrected.

If Acid Reflux Is Causing Insomnia, See a Doctor

Occasional sleep issues are part of life.

Chronic insomnia is not.

There are many significant side effects of insomnia that can have a negative impact on your health.

So go see a doctor.

On top of helping you figure out what might be causing your acid reflux issues, they can help you get on a treatment plan to solve them.

A doctor can also prescribe medication to neutralize stomach acid, or reduce acid production, depending on your specific situation.

References

  1. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease as an Etiology of Sleep Disturbance in Subjects with Insomnia and Minimal Reflux Symptoms
  2. Effects of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease on Sleep and Outcomes
  3. GERD and insomnia—first degree relatives or distant cousins?
  4. Foods Inducing Typical Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Symptoms in Korea

Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.


About the authorDale is the founder of Snooze University and a sleep researcher. I overcame my sleep issues and now I'd like to help you do the same by summarizing the latest sleep studies for you.