Many of us struggle to get the sleep we need at night. We toss. We turn. We get up. We lay down. But no matter what we do, sleep seems elusive and when morning comes we are as tired as we were when we went to bed. If this sounds like you, it’s time to take a good long look at what is keeping you up and stealing your sleep. It might be stress. It might be anxiety. It might be too much caffeine. But it might also be GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease. This disorder that affects your gastrointestinal tract and your digestive system is one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders in America. It can also cause significant sleep disruption and as the National Sleep Foundation found in one of their Sleep in America polls; it is one of the leading causes of sleep problems in people in their 40’s, 50’s, and early 60’s.
What is GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease is caused by a back-up of stomach acid into the esophagus. There is a valve that connects your esophagus and your stomach whose primary purpose is to make sure things only go one way, from the esophagus into the stomach. However, sometimes this valve stops functioning properly and starts to leak. This allows stomach acid to travel up into the esophagus resulting in many unpleasant symptoms including:
- Chronic heartburn
- Chronic cough
- Sore throat
- Hoarse or raspy voice
How GERD Impacts Sleep
For those who do not have this condition, it may not be obvious how sleep can be impacted by GERD. While GERD symptoms can strike at any time, they are often made worse when the person lays down as this makes it easier for stomach acid to backup into the esophagus. Many people with GERD really struggle to get the sleep they need because it can be so painful and so unremitting. If the acid backs all the way into the throat, the person may even wake up choking and coughing and then struggle to get back to sleep because of the burning acid feeling in the back of their throat and mouth.
When Heartburn is More than Heartburn
Everyone gets heartburn once in awhile. We eat too much spicy food, have too much caffeine, or have something that our stomach doesn’t agree with. But GERD is more than just heartburn and can even be present without heartburn. If you are experiencing persistent heartburn more than twice a week it may be GERD. If you have frequent heartburn that doesn’t relate to anything specific you have eaten, it might be GERD. If you wake up with a sore throat, raspy voice, and cough, it might be GERD. If you wake up with an acid taste in your mouth or a burning sensation in your mouth and throat, it might be GERD.
Time to See the Doctor
If you suspect that you have GERD, meaning you have persistent heartburn more than twice a week and/or other symptoms, you should see your doctor. Getting this condition treated will help you get to sleep and help keep symptoms from waking you up in the middle of the night. GERD can also cause other problems if left untreated. Your doctor can advise you on the best course of action including lifestyle changes, medications, and even the use of over the counter remedies to keep your stomach from keeping you up at night.
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