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Health & Lifestyle

How To Sleep Better With Asthma

In this article

If you have asthma, you know how tough it can be to get a good night's sleep.  Struggling to breathe can make anyone restless – but don’t worry, this guide is here to help!

We'll talk about simple things you can do to your bedroom to make it easier to breathe at night. We'll also explore different ways to sleep that might help you breathe better.  Plus, we'll answer some common questions people with asthma have about sleeping problems.

So, grab your PJs, get comfy, and let's create a sleep routine that helps you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to go!

Man with asthma using an inhaler.

Why is asthma worse at night?

Ever wondered why your asthma seems to play up more at night, just when you want to relax and get some rest? There are a few reasons why this might happen:

  • Your body changes at night - as you settle in for sleep, your body naturally lowers some hormones. This can make your airways more sensitive and prone to inflammation, which is a key player in asthma attacks.
  • Your sleeping position - lying flat on your back can put some extra pressure on your airways, making it harder to breathe.
  • Bedroom triggers - dust mites love cosy spots like pillows and mattresses. If you don't clean your bedding regularly, these tiny critters can irritate your airways and trigger asthma symptoms.
  • Cooler nighttime air - cold air can irritate your airways, making them tighten up and making it harder to breathe.

While these are some common reasons, it's important to remember that asthma triggers can vary from person to person. If you're not sure what's causing your nighttime problems, talk to your doctor. They can help you identify what’s going wrong and build a plan with you to manage your asthma so you can sleep soundly.

Can you have an asthma attack in your sleep?

Absolutely. Nighttime asthma attacks, also called nocturnal asthma, are quite common.  Many people with asthma wake up feeling short of breath, wheezing, or coughing because their asthma acts up during sleep. 

This can happen because while you're sleeping, you're less aware of early warning signs of an asthma attack, like a slight wheeze or tightness in your chest. This can lead to a more severe attack by the time you wake up. All the reasons why your asthma can feel worse at night that we mentioned above can contribute to a full asthma attack, so taking the necessary steps to reduce the risks is worth it!

Can asthma cause sleep apnoea?

While asthma and sleep apnoea are both sleep disruptors, they're not directly caused by each other. However, they can be linked in a few ways. 

Having asthma can put you at a higher risk of developing sleep apnoea, and vice versa. This is because both conditions involve airway problems. Inflammation from asthma can narrow your airways, making them more prone to collapse during sleep, which is a key feature of sleep apnoea.

If you have both asthma and sleep apnoea, untreated sleep apnoea can worsen your asthma symptoms. Sleep apnoea disrupts your sleep, which can lead to increased inflammation throughout your body, including your airways. This inflammation can trigger asthma attacks.

Young boy in bed using an inhaler.

How to sleep with asthma

Here are our top tips to create a sleep-friendly environment and improve your chances of a restful night with asthma:

Three things to avoid if you have asthma

  1. Dust mites - these tiny creatures love bedding and can trigger asthma symptoms. Wash your pillows and sheets weekly in hot water (at least 55°C) and encase your mattress and pillows in allergen-proof bedding. While not a cure, an allergy-friendly mattress can help reduce exposure to dust mites too.
  2. Irritants in the air - smoke, pet hair, and strong cleaning chemicals can all irritate your airways. Avoid smoking completely, keep pets out of the bedroom if possible, and opt for natural cleaning products.
  3. Late-night meals - eating a large meal close to bedtime can cause heartburn, which can worsen asthma symptoms. Try to finish your dinner a few hours before you aim to go to sleep.

Three things to do if you have asthma

  1. Control your asthma - work with your doctor to develop an asthma management plan that includes medication and lifestyle changes. Taking your medication as prescribed is crucial for preventing nighttime attacks.
  2. Cool down your bedroom- cold air can trigger asthma, but a hot and stuffy room isn't ideal either. Aim for a cool bedroom temperature, around 15-19°C. Consider using a fan or air conditioner too if you can’t get cool with the windows open – but don’t leave your fan running all night! Check out the five reasons why you shouldn’t leave your fan running all night for more information.
  3. Elevate your head - lying flat on your back can make breathing difficult. Try using extra pillows or a wedge pillow to elevate your head and chest.

What is the best position to sleep in for asthma?

There's no single "best" position for everyone with asthma. However, some people can find relief by sleeping on their side, particularly their left side. This can help to reduce pressure on your airways, so try experimenting with different positions to see what feels best for you. Read our tips on the best sleeping positions for breathing problems for more help.

How to help your child with asthma get some sleep

If your child has asthma, creating a sleep routine and managing their triggers is especially important. Try these tips:

  • Make bedtime predictable - go to bed and wake up around the same time each day, even on weekends.
  • Find a relaxing bedtime routine - take a warm bath, read a book, or listen to calming music before bed. Check out our guide to breathing techniques to help you sleep for some calming exercises.
  • Keep their room asthma-friendly - follow the same tips mentioned above for avoiding dust mites and irritants.
  • Talk to their doctor - if your child frequently struggles to sleep due to asthma, talk to their doctor. They may recommend adjustments to their medication or other strategies.

Getting a good night's sleep is crucial for everyone's health, but it can be especially challenging with asthma. By implementing the tips in this guide, you can create a sleep-friendly environment, manage your triggers, and wake up feeling refreshed. You can find more insights into how to sleep well at night in our Snooze News section, such as how to sleep better with allergies.

An image of the author, Martin Seeley, Senior Sleep Expert Martin Seeley, Senior Sleep Expert Bio & articles

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