Getting to Sleep With COPD
Don't let COPD keep you from getting the rest you need.
By Krisha McCoy
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Getting a good night's sleep is one of the most important parts of good health. Sufficient sleep helps us think quickly, focus our attention on tasks, and perform our best at work. Sleep is also good for our hearts, our moods, and maintaining a healthy weight.
But for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), getting to sleep — and sleeping through the night — can be difficult. This can be a significant problem, since sleep is especially important when dealing with an illness like COPD. Sleep allows the body to repair itself, and not getting enough rest can weaken the immune system.
COPD: Common Causes of Sleep Problems
"What COPD patients have to do is find out the reason that they are not sleeping," says Jane Whalen-Price, PT, director of rehabilitation services at National Jewish Health in Denver. "Do they cough? Do they snore? Do they gasp? Is it the reflux that is bothering them?"
Some factors that may interfere with sleep in COPD patients include:
- Sleep position:Since people with COPD may find breathing more difficult when they are lying down, they often sleep in an upright position. But sitting up makes it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Medications:Some of the medications used to treat COPD can keep you up. Others cause you to make frequent trips to the bathroom, interrupting your sleep.
- Mental health:People who have COPD are at increased risk of emotional problems, such as depression and anxiety, which often lead to sleep problems.
- Sleep-related breathing changes:When you go to sleep, your breathing slows and your respiratory system becomes less responsive to stimuli. This is not usually a problem for healthy people, but it can cause sleep disturbances in people who have COPD.
- Sleep apnea:About 10 to 15 percent of people who have COPD also have sleep apnea, which is when your breathing is interrupted during sleep. Sleep apnea can result in loud snoring, frequent awakenings, and severe sleepiness in the daytime.
- Acid reflux:It is estimated that more than half of COPD patients with advanced disease have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The acid reflux in GERD can lead to heartburn and other symptoms, causing you to wake up often at night and sleep restlessly.
COPD: 5 Tips for Better Sleep
There are a number of steps you can take to help you get a good night's sleep if you have COPD. They include:
- Adjust COPD medications:After assessing your symptoms and sleeping complaints, your doctor may be able to adjust your medications so that you will sleep better. For instance, when you are getting the optimal dosage of bronchodilator therapy, you will be able to breathe easier at night while you sleep. Never make changes to your medications without first consulting your doctor.
- Add oxygen therapy:Nighttime oxygen treatment can sometimes make it easier for you to sleep.
- Treat underlying infections:If you have an underlying problem, such as a respiratory infection, that is making it difficult for you to sleep, getting treatment can improve your rest.
- Try sleep medications:Your doctor may prescribe a sleep medication that will help you sleep better. If you have COPD, always consult your doctor first before taking a sleep medication.
- Practice airway clearance techniques:Your doctor or respiratory therapist can teach you airway clearance techniques that may help you sleep better.
General Tips for Better Sleep
Regardless of your COPD status, here are some tips that may also help you get a good night's sleep.
- Reserve your bed for sleeping and sex only. Avoid watching TV, reading, or just lying awake in your bed.
- Get out of bed if you are not able to fall asleep within 20 minutes. Do something relaxing until you feel sleepy enough to go to sleep.
- Avoid napping so that you will be sleepy at bedtime.
- Get regular exercise, but not in the two hours before bedtime.
- Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and cool.
- Don't drink caffeine in the five hours before you go to bed.
- Keep a regular sleep schedule, going to bed and waking around the same time each day.
By being aware of the common causes of sleep disturbances in COPD patients, you can arm yourself with strategies for getting a better night's rest. A good night's sleep can help your body get stronger and be better able to fight the symptoms of COPD.
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