Study: Soft Drinks, Sleeping Pills Linked to Heartburn

If heartburn is keeping you awake at night, you may want to lay off the carbonated beverages or sleeping pills if this uncomfortable condition is affeccting your sleep. A new study on the risk factors associated with night-time heartburn found that drinking carbonated soft drinks and ingesting benzodiazepines, a commonly-prescribed class of sleeping pill, are among the strongest predictors of heartburn. The study, which appeared in the journal Chest, is the largest study undertaken to date on the incidence and risk factors associated with nighttime heartburn.

Heartburn is a symptom of a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD occurs when stomach acids creep up into the esophagus, causing burning and chest pain and sometimes leaving a bad taste in your mouth. For many people, it can be brought on by big heavy meals, spicy foods, or alcohol. Lying down too soon after eating can also bring on heartburn. Many people have the mild form of GERD, where symptoms happen less than 3 times per week and do not interfere with sleep or daily activity. When GERD happens more frequently and to the extent that it keeps you awake, it is classified as severe. While mild GERD can generally be managed through lifestyle modifications or non-prescription medications, severe GERD usually requires prescription medication or even surgery and can even be a risk factor for esophageal cancer.
"There are simple lifestyle changes people can make to help reduce their frequency of heartburn during sleep. Reducing consumption of carbonated soft drinks, replacing benzodiazepines with other types of sleeping pills, and losing weight can all help reduce nighttime heartburn." --Dr. Paul A. Kvale, president of the American College of Chest Physicians.
The study is the first to look at how many people are being kept up at night, said the study's author, Dr. Ronnie Fass. The study involved more than 15,000 Americans, all of whom filled out questionnaires on their sleep habits, medical history, social habits, and more.
"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," Dr. Fass said.
Because excess weight is a known risk factor for heartburn and was found in the study to be one of the predictors, it's possible the rate of nighttime heartburn is lower in Canada. About half the population here is considered overweight or obese, compared to two thirds of Americans.

Among the factors that were strong predictors were soft drinks (likely because of their acidity, the researchers said), certain prescription sleeping pills known as benzodiazepines (such as diazepam (Valium), triazolam (Halcion), lorazepam (Ativan), and alprazolam (Xanax)), and having high blood pressure or asthma. Sleeping problems such as insomnia, snoring, and daytime sleepiness were also associated with nighttime heartburn.

But the good news is that the experts don't believe people who report nighttime heartburn are doomed to uncomfortable, sleepless nights.

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