Nearly 20% of adult patients are affected by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD is a chronic disease characterized by the reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus. Symptoms tend to occur approximately 30 to 60 minutes after a meal and while reclining.
Damage to the esophagus depends upon the potency of the reflux and the amount of time it is in contact with the mucosa. Mild symptoms can be treated with eating smaller meals and avoiding acidic foods. About 10% of patients with chronic GERD will develop Barrett’s esophagus, which can lead to esophageal adenocarcinoma.
GERD can also cause difficulty with sleep. Patients diagnosed with GERD are more likely to report interrupted sleep and short sleep duration (less than six hours of sleep per night). Older women, with a higher BMI, are more likely to be affected.
A recent study of 9,643 participants reported unfavorable dietary habits, such as late eating and snacking, to be a cause for short sleep duration.
To determine a diagnose of GERD, the investigators had participants complete the Frequency Scale for the Symptoms of GERD (FSSG). Patients that scored higher than eight were diagnosed with GERD. The investigators determined sleep duration by asking the patients how much sleep they received per day.
Results of the study indicated that both GERD symptoms and unfavorable dietary behaviors correlated with short sleep duration, but independently of each other. The study did not investigate whether interventions for GERD or a change in dietary behaviors would solve the problem, but it makes sense to me that it might.
For now, as providers, we have to continue to treat the symptoms of GERD and encourage patients to manage what they eat before bedtime.
Sharon M. O’Brien, MPAS, PA-C, is a practicing clinician with an interest in helping patients understand the importance of sleep hygiene and the impact of sleep on health.