A new study shows that carbonated soft drinks and one of the most commonly prescribed types of sleeping pills, benzodiazepines, may be some underappreciated causes of nighttime heartburn -- so severe that it disturbs a person's sleep.
Researchers say it's the largest study to date on the rate and risk factors associated with nighttime heartburn. The new study suggests that many Americans are losing sleep over this common health problem.
"This is the first study to evaluate how common heartburn during sleep is in the general population of the United States," says researcher Ronnie Fass, MD, of the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System and University of Arizona College of Medicine, in a news release. "We found that up to a quarter of the U.S. population loses sleep because of nighttime heartburn, and many of these individuals have related sleep complaints and suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness."
Symptoms of heartburn (called indigestion) occur when acids in the stomach lurch up into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation and pain in the chest. Although occasional heartburn may be common after eating spicy or greasy foods, recurrent nighttime heartburn is associated with a more severe form of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and a higher risk ofcancer from acid erosion.
What Prompts Nighttime Heartburn?
In the study, which appears in the May issue of the journal Chest, researchers surveyed more than 15,000 adults to look at factors associated with nighttime heartburn.
Overall, 24.9% of those surveyed said they experience heartburn during sleep.
Not surprisingly, researchers found that people with a higher body mass index (BMI, an indirect measure of body fat) were more likely to report nighttime heartburn. Being overweight is known to increase the risk of heartburn.
Although previous research has shown that smoking and alcohol use may prompt GERD, researchers found that out of all the social habits examined in this study only drinking soft drinks was associated with a higher risk of nighttime heartburn. They say this is likely due to soft drinks' high acidity level.
In addition, people who reported sleeping problems, such as snoring, insomnia, and daytime sleepiness, reported a higher frequency of nighttime heartburn. These symptoms are also associated with sleep apnea or irregular breathing during sleep.
Therefore, researchers say it also wasn't surprising that people with medical conditions associated with sleep apnea, such as high blood pressure and asthma, were also more likely to report nighttime heartburn.
Experts say the study suggests that there are lifestyle changes that people can make to reduce their risk of nighttime heartburn.
"Reducing consumption of carbonated soft drinks, replacing benzodiazepines with other types of sleeping pills, and losing weight can all help reduce nighttime heartburn," says Paul A. Kvale, MD, president of the American College of Chest Physicians, in a news release.