Nighttime heartburn sufferers may get relief and better sleep quality from the muscle‐relaxant and antispastic drug, baclofen, according to results of a study presented at the American College of Gastroenterology’s 75th Annual Scientific Meeting.

While baclofen has been shown to reduce episodes of GERD, this new study, titled “Baclofen Decreases Reflux and Improves Sleep Quality in Individuals with Nighttime Heartburn,” found that in addition to reducing the number of reflux events during sleep, baclofen significantly improved several measures of sleep in patients with documented GERD and sleep disturbances.

“About 70% of individuals who have GERD also suffer from nighttime heartburn, and 40% of those people say they experience disturbed sleep at night,” said study coauthor Dr William Orr, president and CEO of the Lynn Health Science Institute and a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. “They don’t feel good the next day and they don’t perform as well.”

Approved by the FDA in 1977, baclofen is typically used by neurologists to treat uncontrolled movements, such as shakes and tremors. The drug inhibits nerve activity within the part of the brain that controls the contraction and relaxation of skeletal muscles.

“In this study, we found that baclofen significantly reduces the amount of waking that occurs after the onset of sleep,” said Orr. “Baclofen addresses the physiological causes of reflux, by preventing the relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter and preventing the stomach acid from entering the esophagus. Few drugs inhibit the occurrence of reflux and 40% to 50% of those taking PPIs [proton pump inhibitors] don’t get satisfactory relief, especially at nighttime.”

Baclofen reduced the number of reflux events compared to a placebo (4 events vs 1.3). Patients on baclofen also had more sleep time (434 minutes vs 379 minutes) and greater sleep efficiency (91% vs 79%), according to the study. “The results of this study suggest that baclofen could be a useful adjunct therapy to proton pump inhibitors in patients with nighttime heartburn and sleep disturbance,” said Orr.