Tips for Better Sleep with COPD

woman sleepingWhen was the last time you got a good night’s sleep? If you can’t remember, stick around! Insomnia, or sleeplessness, is one of the most common of all sleep disorders, affecting approximately 30% to 40% of all American adults. The National Sleep Foundation reports that sleep needs vary as we age and are especially impacted by lifestyle and physical health. As a general rule, however, most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep to function optimally during the day.1

Repaying Your Sleep Debt

When you continuously lose sleep because of long-term illness, poor sleep habits or environmental disturbances, you accumulate a “sleep debt” that must be repaid. With each hour of lost sleep, your sleep debt mounts. Once it falls into arrears, your risk for serious health consequences increases.2

To improve your sleep and keep your sleep debt to a minimum, you must first develop healthier sleep habits. Implementing the following tips into your lifestyle is a great way to start:

  • Establish a consistent sleep and wake time; stick to it, even on your days off.
  • Create a regular sleep ritual; take a hot bubble bath or read a steamy novel right before bed.
  • Fashion an environment conducive to sleep.  Keep your room dark and quiet; this means no TV!
  • Exercise regularly doing something you enjoy; avoid exercise at least 3 hours before bedtime.

Talking to Your Doctor about Sleep and COPD

The American Thoracic Society reports that sleep disturbances are highly prevalent among people with COPD, with as many as 50% of all COPD patients reporting some type of significant sleep problem.3

If you have COPD and are having trouble sleeping, there are a number of medical treatment options available to help you sleep like a baby, including:

  • Using supplemental oxygen at night – Some people with COPD function well during the day without oxygen, but experience a temporary drop in oxygen saturation at night when they’re asleep. Your doctor may conduct an overnight oximetry test to determine if this happens to you. Utilizing oxygen therapy at night, even if you don’t need it during the day, may help you sleep more soundly and feel better during the day. Remember: the Inogen One G3 makes a great sleeping partner!
  • Taking an approved sleep aid – If you have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up feeling rested, your doctor may recommend a night-time sleep aide. Remember, certain over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids may impair breathing in people with COPD. The National Sleep Foundation reports one exception to this rule – Ramelteon. In clinical studies conducted on patients with mild to moderate COPD, Ramelteon did not harm their breathing.1 Any changes to your medications should always be made only under the guidance of your physician.
  • Using non-invasive positive pressure ventilation – If you have sleep apnea or another type of sleep disturbance and COPD, using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), a type of supportive ventilation that’s non-invasive, may improve your oxygen saturation during the day and at night. Talk to your doctor about whether non-invasive ventilation is right for you.
  • Clearing your airways with a commercial device. Thick secretions can worsen a nagging cough, make breathing more difficult and sleep, impossible. Using a commercial airway clearance device may be more effective than clearing your airways manually. Talk to your health care provider about choosing an airway clearance device that best suits your needs and lifestyle.


Author: Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN


1 National Sleep Foundation. Insomnia and Sleep. 2013.
2 Harvard Health Publications. Repaying your sleep debt. First printed in the July 2007 issue of the Harvard Women’s Health Watch.
3 American Thoracic Society. Sleep Quality in COPD. 2014.

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