Asthma & Sleep

Many people with asthma experience worse symptoms during the night, which can have a huge impact on sleep1.

We don’t fully understand the causes of ‘nocturnal asthma’2, but it may be a sign that your asthma could be under better control, so the first thing to do is talk to your doctor.

Whatever the cause, having sleep interrupted on a regular basis can significantly affect your quality of life. Being tired during the day can have an enormous influence on your mood, affect concentration and can even impact your ability to manage your asthma.

And all of these things can contribute to feelings of stress or anxiety, particularly if you’re managing the demands of a job or being a parent.

You may be familiar with feelings or being tired, sluggish or irritable after getting a poor night’s sleep due to symptoms of asthma. If this is the case, then you’re not alone.1

Our bodies go through lots of changes during these hours, including changes to our airways, which close up a little more than during the day, meaning the airflow decreases1.

It’s also thought that allergens in the bedroom – like the dust mites in bedclothes – might make symptoms worse. Sleeping position and the effects of asthma on our natural sleeping rhythms are also possible causes.

So what can be done?

If you are waking up in the night frequently, you may feel that poor sleep is something you’ve just had to get used to.

But the effects of poor sleep and their impact shouldn’t be something you put up with. it’s important that you speak with your doctor if lack of sleep is interfering with your daily life, especially if you are waking in the night due to asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest.

If this is the case, your doctor may be able to help you identify what your triggers are and work towards managing them. Your doctor may also want to reassess your medication if you’re struggling at night time.

Taking your medication at the prescribed time and dose is also crucial in managing symptoms into the evening.

“When it’s really cold, Salis’ asthma gets worse at night and he can’t stop coughing. I get up with him to give him his blue reliever inhaler and use lots of pillows to prop him up, which definitely helps.”

- Shakeela Riaz, mum to Sami, 6 and Salis, 12

View more advice.

Sleep quality

As well as taking advice from your doctor, there are simple things you can try yourself to improve the quality of the sleep you do get.

Sticking with a routine and giving some thought to the space you sleep in may help – these habits are sometimes called ‘sleep hygiene’.

  • Stick to a regular evening routine: taking a regular shower or reading at a particular time are good ways to give our bodies a signal that it’s time to wind down. Keeping to regular times of waking and getting to bed can also help with this.
  • Keep your sleeping space comfortable: make sure your bedroom is at comfortable temperature before you make your way upstairs, with low lighting and the right level of noise for you. Some experts think it’s useful to avoid working or doing other daytime activities in your bedroom.
  • Exercise: getting a good level of activity for you during the day can support a good night’s sleep.

Things to avoid

Feeling tired and groggy during the day makes many of us reach for the coffee. But over-caffeinating can have a disruptive effect on sleep.

It might also be tempting to catch up on sleep at weekends, but inconsistent sleep patterns can affect quality of sleep.

It’s recently been suggested that the ‘blue light’ given off by mobile phones and other devices can stimulate brain activity and should be avoided before bedtime. 

Feeling tired can have a real impact on our work and personal lives. Aside from the physical effects, poor sleep can have a long-term effect on mood and our ability to manage a disease.

It is essential that you seek the advice of your doctor if you feel poor sleep is impacting your quality of life.