Overcoming Sleep Problems With COPD
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COPD and Sleep

If you have COPD, you may have a terrible time sleeping. Many people who are diagnosed with COPD don’t sleep well because they have a harder time breathing at night. If you aren’t getting an adequate amount of oxygen to your brain, you will feel restless, stressed or even confused at times.

Many people, regardless of whether they have COPD, feel more anxious at night when the distractions of the day, darkness, and sometimes loneliness keep them awake. You may worry about the implications that COPD has for your future, independence, health, finances, and family.

Your medications may also keep you awake. Many medications that relieve breathing problems are stimulants that interfere with sleep. Additionally, some medications might cause you to urinate frequently.

You may awaken frequently due to coughing spasms. Many people who have COPD can’t breathe well while lying down. Some people are afraid to go to sleep for fear of breathing difficulty and other symptoms.

Causes unrelated to your COPD diagnosis may contribute to your inability to get a good night’s rest, too.

Fortunately there are some strategies you can begin implementing today that may help you to get the rest that you need tonight.

Why Can’t You Sleep?

The first step to finding a solution is to identify the problem. Sometimes this requires a bit of detective work in order to identify the cause and solution to sleeplessness. The more carefully that you can pinpoint the cause of your sleeplessness, the more effective and successful your solutions will be.

Here are some questions that may be helpful for you to ask yourself regarding your insomnia:

  • What do you think is keeping you from getting a good night’s sleep?
  • Do you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or awakening too early? Or do you experience a combination of these factors?
  • Do you have difficulty sleeping every night? If not, what factors do you think contribute to whether you get a good night’s sleep or not?
  • Do you think that your habits could be contributing to your insomnia in any way? For example, do you drink caffeinated beverages before bed?
  • What strategies do you currently use to help you sleep? For example, have you tried meditating or taking a sleeping pill before turning in for the night?
  • Do you have specific symptoms of COPD that keep you awake?
  • Does your activity level during the daytime interfere with your sleep? For example, are you overdoing it or taking late afternoon naps?
  • Is something other than COPD keeping you awake? This could be relationship concerns, worry about money, or any number of other factors.
  • Is your bed room conducive to sleep? It’s hard to sleep in a noisy room or uncomfortable bed. Do you need to make changes in your environment?
  • Do you have nighttime ritual that you use to prepare for sleep? Some people like a shower before bed, while others can’t fall asleep without saying their nightly prayers. A ritual can help your mind and body prepare for sleep.
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Writing down your answers to these questions is very useful because most sleep problems have multiple origins. You may use your answers as the beginning of a sleep journal. That in itself may lead to improved sleep.

Keep a Sleep Journal

Once you carefully identify what is keeping you awake, you will be on your way to finding a solution for your sleeplessness. If you have written down the causes of your insomnia, you have already started a sleep journal. You can expand the likelihood of achieving success by keeping your journal each day.

Record the times that you go to bed and wake up. Each morning, document how long you slept, the occurrence of awakenings, what kept you from sleeping, and how you prepared for sleep the previous night. Include episodes of disturbing dreams, needing to go to the bathroom, craving cigarettes, medication use, and symptoms. You need not write long descriptions, but try to be precise with your writing.

It may be helpful to keep a sleep scale. You are probably familiar with rating pain on a scale of one to ten. Use a similar scale to rate the quality and quantity of your sleep. For example “zero” may equal no problems, while “five” might indicate that you were awake a few times, and “ten” would indicate that you were up all night.

Writing is important for several reasons. It will help you to identify patterns of what works for you and what doesn’t. You will be able to track your progress. Writing can be a stress reliever that indirectly leads to relaxation, sleep, and problem solving.

Strategies for Enhancing Sleep

What helps you to sleep better is directly related to what is keeping you awake. For example, if you are awake because you are anxious, the solution is very different than if you are awake because you cannot sleep lying down in a bed.

While specific interventions are needed based upon your individual needs, here are some tips that can facilitate your ability to sleep well.

  • Get comfortable. Sleep in a recliner if you do not sleep well in your bed. Wear clothes that do not restrict your ability to breathe and move freely.
  • Purchase an over-the-bed table. You may breathe better if you place pillows on an over-the-bed table. Then you can rest sitting up with your head and arms on the table if you have a great deal of difficulty breathing. Check with your health care provider or insurance company to see if the cost may be covered by your insurer.
  • Limit your intake of fluids before bed if you awaken frequently to urinate. However, be sure that you consume adequate amounts of liquid earlier in the day.
  • Take steps to manage stress during the day. You will not be able to sleep at night if you don’t manage stress during the daytime.
  • Exercise daily. Consult with your health care provider for recommendations. If your mobility is limited you may be able to do chair exercises. Learn, and practice relaxation and breathing exercises several times each day.
  • Eat foods that contain calcium and tryptophan one hour prior to retiring for the night. Half of a turkey sandwich, dates, banana, and nuts contain tryptophan. Fat-free dairy products do as well. Only consume the dairy products if you don’t find they are mucus forming.
  • Consult with your health care provider if your COPD symptoms or anxiety are not well controlled. Your medications and treatments may need adjusting. You may need to be referred for sleep testing.

  • Pay attention to stressors. What do you need to feel secure at night?
  • Consider the use of calcium, melatonin, or herbal remedies. Herbs can enhance sleep without making you feel “hungover.” Be sure to consult with your health care provider if you plan to use herbal or other natural remedies. Hops, valerian, passionflower, linden, chamomile, and red clover are effective, gentle sleep aids.

Sleep is essential for your health and wellbeing. It may take time and trying several solutions until you find the answers for your insomnia.

Once you discover what is effective you will finally be able to get some rest. Your COPD symptoms may lessen as you feel more vitalized after getting a good night’s sleep.