Asthma and Sleep

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation.

When you think about it, it makes sense that having asthma—a common respiratory condition—can make it tough to get high-quality sleep. Since asthma constricts the airways, it can lead to nighttime coughing, wheezing, and breathlessness, all of which make it hard to fall asleep and/or cause you to wake up in the middle of the night. People who have a condition known as "nocturnal asthma" may even find that their symptoms get even worse at night.

Certain changes happen to the body at night, which are part of the natural circadian rhythm. If you're healthy, they're no big deal, but if you have asthma, they can make a bad problem even worse. For example, airways become slightly inflamed and close up a little, and airflow decreases. To top it off, the bedroom might also be full of allergens like dust mites and pet dander, which can irritate someone who has asthma when he or she gets into bed.

The connection between asthma and sleep problems, unfortunately, goes both ways. Asthma can cause sleep issues, and sleep issues can also worsen asthma symptoms. Sleep apnea, for instance, increases inflammation in the bronchial tubes—something that can cause asthma symptoms. And it’s unclear why, but people with asthma also have a higher chance of developing sleep apnea.

If you have asthma, you don't need to worry. You aren’t destined to toss and turn and have endless nights of poor sleep. Just follow these simple steps and you might be able to alleviate some of your symptoms. First, remove all allergens from the bedroom like dust mites, pet dander, and pollen. Next, make sure that you are taking your asthma medication as your doctor recommends to keep inflammation down. And talk to your doctor about whether your medication is long-lasting enough to keep working all the way through the night, until morning.

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