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7 Things You Need to Know about Sleep and COPD

10 Mar 2014
| Under COPD, Lifestyle | Posted by | 10 Comments
sleep and COPD

If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you know that difficulty breathing isn’t limited to daylight hours and often interferes with sleep. Effects of this loss of quality sleep can range from mild to chronic fatigue. People with COPD are more likely to develop insomnia, nightmares and daytime sleepiness than the general population. About 50% of COPD patients report significant trouble sleeping. If you are one of these people, it’s important to address your sleep disturbance immediately. Adverse effects from too little sleep include poor concentration, mood swings and irritability.

7 Things You Need to Know about Sleep and COPD

1. Medications.

Sleep disturbances in people with COPD are typically caused by the disease, but can also occur due to the side effects of medication. If you’re experiencing sleep disturbances, it’s important to talk to your doctor about the medications you’re taking. Drugs.com is a great resource to look up side effects of common medications. If you do find that a certain drug is interfering with your sleep, see if there is an alternative you can take. Remember, never stop a medication without the guidance of your physician.

2. Sleep Positions.

Since many people with COPD find it difficult to breathe lying down, they often choose to sleep propped up on pillows or in a chair. However, sleeping upright can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep for a full 6 to 8 hours. If breathing becomes uncomfortable while lying down, talk with your doctor about nighttime oxygen therapy.

3. Nighttime Oxygen Therapy.

Always speak with your doctor before trying a new therapy. Even though we all need oxygen to survive, when it is being used as a supplement it is still viewed as a drug. Oxygen therapy isn’t right for everyone, but has been known to help some people with COPD achieve a better night’s rest. Oxygen therapy is typically recommended for people with stage IV COPD. If you do not fall in this category, we suggest trying the other behavior modifications outlined in these tips. If all else fails, talk to your doctor about sleep aids and other forms of intervention.

4. Designate a Place to Sleep.

With few exceptions, your bed should be used as a place to sleep. If you’re prone to reading books or watching TV in bed, find another location for these activities. Once you get drowsy, go to bed. When you establish a routine of only sleeping in bed, your brain will automatically get sleepy when you crawl into bed after a long day. If you’ve been lying in bed for an extended period of time (over 30 minutes) and still can’t sleep; get up, go to the kitchen for something to drink, or read until you get drowsy before returning to bed. For best results, establish a routine. Try to go to bed at the same time every night, and rise at the same time every morning.

5. Exercise.

Performing 30 minutes of exercise each day can help you get a better night’s rest. Exercising with COPD can be especially tough, but by scheduling time and making an effort each day to get your heart rate up, can you achieve a better night’s sleep.

6. Don’t Go to Bed Hungry! 

If you’re still hungry after dinner and before bed, eat a small protein-packed meal. Try a handful of almonds or some cheese and crackers. Foods high in sugar and carbohydrates kick start your metabolism causing you to stay awake longer. Therefore, don’t eat sweet or starchy foods before bed. Avoid caffeinated drinks and carbonated beverages. Caffeine keeps you awake, and carbonated beverages can produce gas that pushes on the diaphragm, making breathing more difficult.

7. Ask About Sleep Apnea.

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that affects 10 to 15 percent of individuals with COPD. This percentage is the same for the general population, however, sleep apnea in COPD sufferers’ causes an even greater burden. Because sleep apnea decreases oxygen levels and causes the airway to collapse, lung function is impacted even more significantly in patients with both disorders. Sleep apnea can lead to heart attack, stroke, heart failure, high blood pressure, depression and diabetes. If you snore loudly, wake up gasping for air, have  morning headaches, or fall asleep at inappropriate times, you could have sleep apnea. A sleep test may be required to check for sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is treatable, and once under control can add years to your life.

If you’re looking to improve your quality life we’re here to help.

If you or a loved one has COPD or other lung disease and want to learn more about treatment options, contact the Lung Institute online, or call (800) 729-3065.



  1. Lung Institute

    2 weeks ago

    Hi Ernie,

    Thank you for your comment. It is important to know where you are to help you understand what to expect and how to get help. I would recommend calling your physician to get further clarification on what stage you are in and what to expect. They are there to help you, so don’t be shy about reaching out with questions.



  2. Ernie

    2 weeks ago

    I have EMPHYSEMA, but my pulmoary will not give me a Stage #. WhY?

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  7. Vera

    2 years ago

    I take OVC Melatonine and it helps me get drowsy. My Dr, recommended it.

  8. David Ebner

    2 years ago

    Typically, there are medications you can use. However, you will want to speak with your physician about how these medications may affect lung conditions. They should also be able to recommend a specific medication if it is appropriate. Thanks for your comment.

  9. ralph colantuoni

    2 years ago

    more about sleep is there a medication i could use

  10. Pingback: Lung Institute| Living with Lung Disease and Insomnia

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