Sleep Apnea and Acid Reflux

by Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

Some people with acid reflux disease or GERD also have irregular breathing patterns at night known as sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a dangerous condition in which a person's breathing stops and starts frequently throughout the night. If you are excessively tired during the day, snore loudly at night, awake abruptly, awake with a dry mouth or sore throat, have morning headaches or someone has witnessed you stop breathing during sleep, then sleep apnea might be your problem.

Sleep apnea is most often diagnosed with a sleep study. During this study, the patient will be hooked up to equipment that monitors heart, lung and brain activity along with blood oxygen levels, breathing patterns and movement. This information is then evaluated by your physician to determine if you are dealing with sleep apnea.

If you are dealing with sleep apnea, the doctor might recommend a continuous positive airway pressure device or CPAP machine. The CPAP machine uses a slightly higher air pressure than the surrounding air to keep the upper airway open. It is the most reliable way to treat sleep apnea in most patients.

If you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea and GERD, your doctor may want you to make some lifestyle changes as well. Some of these lifestyle changes include the following:

Lose weight if you're overweight

Losing weight is very important because extra weight can exacerbate both conditions. In sleep apnea, the added weight on your chest and neck can increase the risk for obstructed breathing. Added weight in the abdomen can also increase GERD by increasing the pressure on both the stomach and LES.

Stop smoking

Smoking is linked to an increase in sleep apnea and acid reflux, among other things. If you are having a hard time quitting, ask your physician for help. There are newer medications and programs that might help you kick the habit for good.


Exercise is beneficial for both conditions. Not only does exercise strengthen the lungs, aid in proper digestion and promote better sleep, but it also helps with weight loss. Start out slowly if you have never exercised before. Working up to a mild amount of exercise, even only 30 minutes a day, can prove beneficial.

While it is unclear exactly why these conditions are linked, it is important to properly treat both conditions. This not only for you to get a good night's sleep, but for long-term health.

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson
Meet Our Writer
Jennifer Mitchell Wilson

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson is a dietitian and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.