What should I do if my lung condition symptoms wake me up?
Living with a lung condition can affect your sleep. You might find that you have trouble sleeping or wake up in the night because of your symptoms.
If you have asthma
Sit up and take your reliever inhaler (usually blue) as prescribed. Try to keep your reliever inhaler and spacer (if you use one) beside your bed while you’re asleep, so you can get to them quickly if you need to.
See your GP or asthma nurse if:
if you’re waking up because of asthma symptoms. It is a sign that your asthma is not well controlled and you may be at risk of an asthma attack. See your GP or asthma nurse as soon as you can to make sure you’re managing your asthma well.
If your symptoms come on early in the morning, it could be a sign that your asthma has been difficult through the night.
Managing your asthma well is the best way to prevent your symptoms from waking you up:
- Take your preventer inhaler every day, as prescribed, even if you feel better. Your preventer inhaler stops swelling and inflammation building. If you take your preventer inhaler every day, you should notice you're sleeping better at night.
- Use your asthma action plan to help you manage your asthma. Your action plan will help you understand your symptoms and what to do if they get worse.
- Go for an asthma review at least once a year. This is a chance for you to talk about your treatment and check your inhaler technique with your GP or asthma nurse.
If you have another lung condition
It’s also a good idea to make sure that your condition is under control if it’s affecting your sleep:
- Your healthcare professional might recommend that you use a self-management plan. We have a COPD self-management plan and a pulmonary fibrosis personal organiser.
- If you have a yearly review for your condition, make sure you attend.
- Talk to your GP or specialist, they can make sure that you’re on the right medicines or treatments.
What position should I sleep in?
If you have a lung condition, lying flat on your back might:
- make it more difficult to breathe, because it puts pressure on your chest
- make you cough more, because the mucus in your nose drips to your throat
- make your acid reflux worse, because gravity is no longer keeping your stomach acid down.
You could prop yourself up with pillows, so that your head is slightly higher than the rest of your body. This could help to reduce your symptoms by opening your airways and taking the pressure off your chest.
Try to avoid sleeping completely upright, as this could make it harder to get to sleep.
Can my medicines affect my sleep?
Some medicines may stop you sleeping well.
“Never change or stop taking your medicines without talking to your doctor. Your GP, specialist or asthma nurse can talk to you about your treatment options if you think your medicines are affecting your sleep. They will help you get the best care.” – Dr Andrew Whittamore, Asthma + Lung UK’s GP
You might use a steroid inhaler if you have asthma or COPD. If you use a high dose of a steroid inhaler for a long time, you might have trouble sleeping.
If you take steroid tablets for your lung condition, you might also find you have trouble sleeping. Taking your tablets in the morning with breakfast could help prevent this.
You might take antidepressants to treat a mental health condition.
Not sleeping well (insomnia) is a common side effect of mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety. Antidepressants can help this, because some antidepressants can make you feel drowsy.
Other types of antidepressants could cause you to not sleep well. Your side effects will also depend on the type of antidepressant you take. If your antidepressants affect your sleep, this should improve within a few weeks of you first taking them.
If your side effects carry on, your GP can discuss different treatment options with you. They can help you find the right type of treatment.
Find out how to look after your mental health if you have a lung condition.
You might take montelukast if you have asthma.
Up to 1 in 100 people get sleep problems from montelukast. This can include nightmares and not sleeping very well (insomnia). If montelukast is affecting your sleep or your mood, talk to your GP or asthma nurse as soon as possible.
You might take theophylline if you have asthma or COPD.
Theophylline can sometimes cause sleep problems (insomnia). If you get side effects from theophylline, you should speak to your GP or specialist. They will check that you’re on the correct dose for you.
How can I improve my sleep?
There are some things in your bedroom that could make your symptoms worse.
Managing your condition well is the best way to stop your symptoms affecting your
sleep, but looking after the place you sleep is important too.
If you have mould or damp in your home, you might have an irritated nose and throat, or feel short of breath. It’s common to have an allergy to mould, but if you have a lung condition it can make your symptoms worse.
Pollen could affect your sleep if you have a lung condition like asthma or COPD.
Pollen can come in through your windows, so try to keep the windows and doors where you sleep shut as much as possible during pollen season.
The temperature of the place you sleep is important.
Hot air can cause your airways to narrow. Try using a fan to keep cool if your room is hot at night.
Cold air can make your symptoms worse. Try keeping your windows closed and keep heating on low in the bedroom if you need to.
If you can, we recommend heating your house to at least 18°C (64°F). We have more information about keeping your home warm.
Allergies like dust mites and pet hair could trigger your asthma symptoms. They could also trigger your symptoms if you have COPD.
You could try using anti-allergy sheets or an air purifier to help with allergy symptoms. It’s also a good idea to keep pets away from where you sleep as much as possible.
Find out how to manage your allergies.
Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA)
Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a breathing problem that happens when you sleep. You’re more likely to have OSA if you live with a lung condition. Find out more about OSA, what the symptoms are and how it is treated.