People with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) face special challenges when it comes to getting a good night's sleep. COPD causes coughing, pain and shortness of breath, which can make it difficult to sleep. But sleep is important for resting pulmonary muscles – and for making it possible to simply function the next day. There are a number of reasons beyond direct COPD symptoms that you might be having sleeping problems. Understanding what these are could help you find your way to a better night's sleep.
How COPD can complicate sleep
Sleep can be a complicated process. We all can have trouble sleeping from time to time. However, people with COPD can have added difficulties. Factors that can contribute to COPD sleeping problems include:
- Medications. Common COPD medications, such as albuterol and prednisone, can have insomnia as a side effect.
- Sleeping position. Breathing is often easier sitting up than lying down when you have COPD. However, trying to sleep in a sitting position can interfere with the ability to sleep. But lying flat also poses problems. Blood oxygen levels fall, and lung function slows, when you lie flat. This can exacerbate shortness of breath. Lying flat also can make acid reflux problems worse – this is a common problem for people with COPD.
- Sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is common in people who have COPD. If you or a bed partner notice you frequently snore, this might be the case for you, as well.
- Anxiety and depression. These mental health conditions are common for people suffering from chronic health problems. Both can interfere with your ability to sleep.
How your doctor can help
While you might be napping during the day to make up for lost sleep, this isn't a good idea. Sleeping during the day can throw off your body's natural sleep patterns. Instead, it's better to have a conversation with your doctor. During this visit, you'll want to:
- Review your medications. Bring a list of the prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs you now take. Ask if any might be disrupting your sleep. Timing also might be a problem. It could be possible to adjust when you take certain medications to help you sleep more easily.
- Ask about other medications. If pain is keeping you awake at night, there might be medications that can help manage that problem. You also might want to ask about safe sleeping aids. Some sleep medication can slow down your breathing, though, so it's important to talk with your doctor before taking anything new.
- Discuss oxygen therapy. Using oxygen at night can help some people with COPD sleep more soundly. It's possible this could be an option for you, as well.
- Talk about sleep apnea solutions. CPAP is a common method to address sleep apnea. It could help you improve your oxygen levels both day and night.
How sleep habits matter
There also are some simple adjustments you can make to your schedule and bedroom that could help improve your sleep.
- Limit napping. Too much sleeping during the day can disrupt regular sleeping patterns. Limit naps to 20 minutes or less to support nighttime rest.
- Stick to a routine. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day. This will help reinforce natural sleep/wake cycles.
- Elevate yourself. Sleeping in a slightly upright position helps reduce stress on your lungs. It also can reduce acid reflux symptoms.