Asthma and your child's sleep

Why your child’s asthma symptoms may be worse at night and how to help them, and you, get a good night’s sleep

What do asthma symptoms at night mean?

If your child is coughing or wheezing at night it’s a sign their asthma is not well managed.

It’s important to see your child’s GP or asthma nurse if asthma symptoms are affecting their sleep.

Your GP/asthma nurse can:

  • check that your child is taking their asthma medicines as prescribed - sometimes it’s easy to let their routine slip a bit
  • consider increasing or changing your child’s asthma medicines
  • check your child’s inhaler technique, and that you know how to help them use their inhalers correctly. We have tips for helping your child use their inhalers.

If your child hasn’t yet been diagnosed with asthma, coughing or wheezing at night could be signs of asthma.

Coughing and wheezing can be symptoms of other things too. For example, if your child has a cold it’s very common for them to cough during the night.

Why are asthma symptoms often worse at night?

Asthma symptoms are often worse at night because:

  • lying down can trigger a cough, especially if your child also has a blocked nose or sinuses. Or if they have post-nasal drip (mucus that drips from the back of your nose down your throat) due to hay fever, allergies or a cold.
  • your child’s body isn’t as good at controlling inflammation - including in their airways - while they’re asleep.
  • your child may be exposed to asthma triggers at night such as dust mites in bedding or pets sleeping in their bedroom.

But don’t accept night-time asthma symptoms as normal. Your child’s GP or asthma nurse can help get their asthma under control.

How to reduce the risk of night-time symptoms

Manage your child's asthma well 

  • Make sure your child takes their prescribed medicine, even if they're well: they’re less likely to cough and wheeze, and/or find it hard to breathe at night.
  • Use your child’s written asthma action plan to help you recognise if their asthma is getting worse. Find out more about how an asthma action plan can help you manage your child’s asthma.
  • Make sure you have regular reviews with your child’s GP or asthma nurse if they’re having night-time symptoms. Your child should have a review at least once a year, but you don’t have to wait that long if you’re concerned.

Try to avoid your child's triggers 

  • If your child’s asthma symptoms are triggered by animals, keep pets out of their bedroom, especially at night.
  • If your child has hay fever, keep their bedroom window shut at night, and don't dry their bedding outside to avoid bringing in pollen.
  • Make sure your child is not exposed to cigarette smoke. It will make their asthma worse.

Keep your child's bedroom at the right temperature 

Breathing colder air at night or sleeping in an air-conditioned room, such as a hotel room, can trigger asthma symptoms. If possible, keep the temperature in their bedroom steady so it’s not too cold or too warm.

Try propping your child up with pillows 

Some parents find their child coughs less and sleeps better if they’re propped up with extra pillows. This can help to keep their airways open.

Keep your child's asthma action plan to hand

This can help you recognise their triggers and symptoms and decide what medicine to give them. It’ll also tell you what to do if they have an asthma attack, and when to call 999 for an ambulance.

Keep a copy on your phone or by your bed so you don’t struggle to find it in the middle of the night.

Have your child’s reliever inhaler ready

Be prepared to deal with your child's asthma symptoms quickly during the night.

Make sure your child's reliever inhaler (usually blue) and their spacer are in a safe place in your bedroom so you can find it quickly, even when you’re tired or its dark.

If it’s a spare inhaler, check it from time to time to make sure it’s not empty and is still in date.

Anna Bonnett

“In my experience, it’s harder to deal with asthma symptoms during the night – I think because you’re tired you’re less able to think clearly. Somehow you feel far more vulnerable. I’d say to anyone who has a child with asthma, don’t hesitate to call 999 – especially if it’s the middle of the night. They’d rather see you than for you to wait until it’s too late.” 

How to get a better night's sleep

Coping with disturbed nights because of your child’s asthma can be difficult. You might also find it hard to sleep if you’re worrying about their asthma.

Try these tips:

  • Read through your child’s written asthma action plan regularly so you’re confident about what to do if they have asthma symptoms at night.
  • Jot down any worries and how you’ll deal with them – for example, if you're worried about your child's cough at night, make a note that you'll book an appointment with their GP or asthma nurse in the morning. This can help clear your mind so you feel more able to sleep.
  • Share your concerns with other parents on our asthma forum or read parents' stories to find out how others cope.
  • Call our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (9am - 5pm; Mon - Fri) to speak to an asthma nurse specialist about your child's night time symptoms. Or you can WhatsApp them on 07378 606 728.

Get support

Call our Helpline for support with your condition. Get advice on your medicines, symptoms or travelling with a lung condition, or just call us to say hello.

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