How One Bad Night's Sleep Can Impact your COPD?

March 17, 2023
Stephen Keenan
4 mins read

Did you know that lung function and sleep quality are directly related? Breathing problems lead to poor sleep, and poor sleep can also make lung diseases worse. That is why getting good quality zzz's is so important.

The act of being asleep has a couple of effects on your body that are unavoidable. Some changes that effected people with respiratory conditions more than others include mucosal retention, bronchial reactivity, and reduced brain activity. All these changes affect the regular function of your body and its organs. For example, having reduced brain activity can make breathing patterns change and become less regular and shallow. Unfortunately, for people suffering from COPD, this can be an extra burden on their lungs.

The ‘stage’ of sleep you are in is also something that is important. We can divide sleep into two stages: non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) to rapid eye movement sleep (REM).[1] Each stage and its cycle can intensify changes in breathing.

Let’s take REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This refers to a period of sleep that is characterized, as its name suggests, by rapid eye movement. It is a sleep state in which the whole body goes into a state of reduced muscle activity and increased brain activity (This is also when you do most of your dreaming as the brain is processing all the information you've taken in during the day and stores it in your long-term memory). During this phase of sleep, heart and respiratory functions become less stable than they are during other sleep periods. For example, your breathing becomes less frequent. This reduction in frequency can sometimes mean that there is a reduction in lung activity - which makes it even harder to inhale and exhale.

Sleep is the body's time to rest, repair, and recharge. So, if you have COPD, you need quality sleep to give your lungs and respiratory muscles the time they need to be "fresh" for the next day. It also helps you keep a healthy immune system - allowing you to have a greater chance of fighting off infections, especially respiratory ones. [2] But, COPD can make it difficult to get quality sleep in between the coughing, the pain, and the breathlessness. To help with this, try adding one of these to your daily routine and see if it helps - you might just be surprised at the results:

To rest during the night, you need to follow these tips:

  • Be active during the day to sleep better at night.
  • Adjust a pillow or two pillows so that your head is at a higher level than your body to make breathing easier.
  • Avoid looking at electrical appliances before bed, late meals, and afternoon sleep. [2]
  1. Choudhary SS, Choudhary SR. Sleep effects on breathing and respiratory diseases. Lung India. 2009;26(4):117-122. doi:10.4103/0970-2113.56345
  2. Agarwal AK, Raja A, Brown BD. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. [Updated 2021 Dec 10]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from:

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