Chronic Lung Disease: Managing Sleep Problems

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Sleep Problems and Lung Disease

Lung disease can make it harder to breathe at night. Try these tips to get more shut-eye.
male sleeping in bed

Chronic lung diseases include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), most often chronic bronchitis and emphysema. They also include pulmonary fibrosis or sarcoidosis. If you have a chronic lung disease, you may have trouble sleeping. You may wake up often at night. Or you may not feel rested in the morning. There are many reasons you may not be getting a good night’s sleep. Lung disease can make it harder to breathe at  night. Age, certain medications, and not getting enough activity during the day can also affect sleep.

Sleeping Better

If you’re having trouble sleeping, try the following:

  • Use a breathing technique. Taking slow, deep breaths can help you relax and fall asleep.

    • Ask your health care provider to show you how to do pursed-lip and diaphragmatic breathing in bed. Both of these breathing methods are good for people with lung disease.

  • Don’t have drinks with caffeine in the afternoon or evening. 

  • Try to go to sleep and wake up at around the same time every day. This helps your body get into a pattern.

  • Avoid long naps during the day. This can make it harder to sleep at night. A very brief nap should be OK.

  • Make sure your bed and bedroom are comfortable for you - this includes temperature, light, and noise level.

  • It may be best not to watch television or use your computer or phone in bed.

  • Talk to your health care provider about  any medications you take at bedtime, they may be keeping you awake. You may be able to take the medication at another time of day.

CPAP and BiPAP

To help with breathing at night, your health care provider may prescribe CPAP or BiPAP. You may be given a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device. Or you may be given a BiPAP (bilevel positive airway pressure) device. These devices send a gentle flow of air through a nasal mask while you sleep. This air goes through your nose and into your lungs, keeping your airways open. Below are tips for using these devices:

  • Give yourself time to adjust to the device. It may take a while. You can ask your provider or someone from the medical supply company for suggestions to make it more comfortable.

  • If your mask doesn’t fit or feel right, talk to your provider or the medical supply company representative about adjusting it. Or you may try a different mask. Custom-made masks are also available.

  • These devices work best if your nose is clear. If you have allergies or other problems that block your nose, talk to your provider.

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Medical Reviewers: Beth Holloway, RN, M.Ed.; MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician Last Review Date: Jul 21, 2014

© 2000-2015 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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Medical References

  1. National Sleep Foundation. COPD and Difficulty Sleeping. http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-disorders-problems/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-and-sleep/...
  2. American Thoracic Society. Management of Sleep-Related Disturbances. http://www.thoracic.org/clinical/copd-guidelines/for-health-professionals/management-of-stable-copd/...

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