Sleep apnea and insomnia are two distinct sleep disorders. One is characterized by pauses in breathing during sleep, and the other is characterized by the difficulty to fall or stay asleep. Both can cause a considerable amount of physical and emotional symptoms. Both can affect your everyday life. And both can be related to gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.

The link between reflux and sleep has been known for some time. In a 2000 study, the Gallup Organization, under the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), found that 8 in 10 heartburn sufferers experienced nighttime symptoms. Many of these people experienced interrupted sleep, which affected their ability to function the following day. (The main symptom of GERD is heartburn.)

The research was furthered a few years later, in a study presented at the 70th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG). Of 168 patients participating in sleep studies, reflux symptoms were common and frequently severe, and those with sleep apnea reported much lower quality of life. Moreover, patients with sleep apnea and moderate to severe nighttime reflux reported even worse quality of life. Yet it was another step forward.

Then, two years ago, researchers presenting at the 72nd ACG meeting were able to learn specific information about the relationship between GERD and sleeping impairment. They learned the following:


  • Of people with sleeping impairments, over 40 percent of people suffered from GERD, while less than 20 percent did not
  • Nearly 50 percent of people with nighttime GERD sleep poorly often or most of the time, compared to 1/3 of percent of people with daytime GERD
  • Nearly 75 percent of GERD patients experienced one atypical manifestation or symptom, like coughing, sore throat, snoring, wheezing, choking, and chest pain1

This led them to conclude that nighttime acid reflux can significantly impact sleep.

Anyone experiencing these symptoms should see their doctor. But beforehand, it is important to understand the symptoms. GERD is a more serious form of gastroesophageal reflux (GER), which occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter allows stomach contents rise up into the esophagus. During this, one will taste food or fluid in the back of the mouth. When stomach acid touches the lining of the esophagus, it may cause a burning sensation in the chest or throat. This is called acid indigestion.

To combat this preliminarily, there are daily lifestyle changes you can make. Organizations like the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the National Heartburn Alliance suggest eating meals 2 to 3 hours before lying down, elevating the head of your bed 4 to 6 inches, sleeping on the left side, and wear loose-fitting clothing to bed. 2,3