Sleep is fundamental to our health, a good night’s sleep helps us to think quickly, focus on tasks, gives us energy, we perform better, it is good for our heart, our moods and helps to maintain a healthy weight.
However when you suffer from a medical condition like COPD it can make sleeping difficult, which is even more important as not enough sleep can weaken the immune system, make you more vulnerable to infections and prevent the body from self-healing. This can result in daytime sleepiness and your health deteriorating, as it can prevent you from getting the exercise you need to help strengthen your heart and lungs.
Oxygen levels are already low in people with COPD and drop even lower at night. Your brain responds by waking you up periodically to catch your breath—preventing you from entering the critical, restorative phases of deep sleep that you need.
Common causes of sleep problems with COPD:
- Sleep position: Many people with COPD find breathing more difficult lying down and try to sleep in a more upright position but sittung up makes it hard to fall asleep and to stay asleep.
- Medications: Some prescribed drugs for COPD can keep you awake and others result in frequent bathroom trips which can disrupt your sleep.
- Mental Health: COPD patients are prone to an increased risk of anxiety and depression which can lead to sleep problems.
- Sleep-related breathing changes: When healthy people go to sleep your breathing slows and becomes less responsive to stimuli, however if you have COPD this can cause sleep disturbances.
- Sleep Apnea: 10-15% of COPD patients also suffer from sleep apnea where your breathing is interrupted when you sleep. Sleep apnea can cause snoring, frequent awakenings and daytime sleepiness.
- Acid reflux: More than half of COPD patients have acid reflux which can result in heartburn, causing you to wake up at night.
Tips for better sleep:
- Adjust COPD medications: Your doctor may be able to adjust your medications so that you will sleep better.
- Add oxygen therapy: Night-time oxygen treatment can sometimes make it easier for you to sleep. Equipment can be obtained via the NHS with a doctor’s prescription or through private companies.
- 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.
- Practice airway clearance techniques: Your doctor can teach you airway clearance techniques that may help you sleep better.
- Use CPAP if you have obstructive sleep apnea. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices deliver a steady stream of air through a nasal mask you wear overnight.
General tips for anyone trying to sleep:
- Reserve your bed for just sleeping and 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 and 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.