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Michael is a professional writer based in Boston and someone who has always been fascinated with the mysteries of sleep. When he’s not reading about new sleep studies and working on our news section, you can find him playing video games or visiting local comic book stores.

Asthma and Sleep

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the lung airways, making them highly sensitive and easily triggered into an asthma attack. It can have a negative impact on the sleep duration and quality.

Between 1-18% of the population worldwide is affected by asthma, with a higher prevalence reported in more developed countries. Coughing, wheezing, chest tightening and difficulties breathing are just some of the symptoms people with asthma have do deal with in their day-to-day lives. What’s worse, these symptoms often get even naughtier at nighttime, prompting for a distinctive diagnosis of nocturnal asthma. Representing a level of worsening of the regular asthma symptoms during the night and the increased risk for other medical conditions and asthma-related incidents, nocturnal asthma affects 60% of the individuals with asthma, if not more. This phenomenon naturally causes a lot of sleep issues, and the occurrence of sleep disorders in said circumstances is not rare.

This article will focus mostly on sleep issues with the presence of nocturnal asthma. Learn more about the types of disorders that frequently comorbid this condition, as well as how they might be recognized and treated.


What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the lung airways of our body, making them highly sensitive and easily triggered into an asthma attack. During such an episode, an individual’s mucus production goes overboard, and their normally open airways start swelling and narrowing, reducing or completely stopping the oxygen flow into their lungs. If not properly and timely managed, such an episode can result in death. In fact, over 345 thousand people around the world die from this disease every year, the majority of this number making people who have lower incomes and live in developed countries (putting them at a higher chance to get asthma than people in developing countries, but a lower chance to be able to afford medical help whenever necessary).

Triggers for an asthma attack vary from person to person, but the possibilities are many; some common ones include:

This disease can be traced all the way back to Ancient Egypt when it got its name with the meaning “panting” in Greek. In modern years, the incidence rate has increased significantly – one in every thirteen people in America has asthma, making up the staggering number of 25 million Americans suffering from this disease. Statistically speaking, severe asthma strikes boys and girls equally, but in adults, it’s more prevalent in women.

Still, the cause of this increased rate isn’t known. Possibilities include some epigenetic changes (changes made in non-DNA genes and not affecting the DNA) in the patients and some environmental changes. The cause of asthma is also the subject of ongoing research; it is believed to be a combination of genetic predisposition and some environmental factors like exposure to allergens or respiratory infections at an early age, before one’s immunity got a chance to form properly. Arguably, changes in our surroundings into a more polluted, urban landscape as the industrialization progressed contributed to the increased rate of this disease, triggering already present “risk” genes into onsetting asthma in the many people who suffer it. It would also explain why developed countries have a heightened incidence rate of this disease than developing countries.

Asthma first occurs in one’s childhood and may resolve in time, although in many cases, it is a lifelong condition that can’t be cured. However, treating asthma is possible and effective, keeping it under control and enabling individuals with this disease to have normal, happy lives.


Nocturnal Asthma

All people have more difficulties breathing during sleep, particularly around 4 A.M. but these issues are not big enough to stop our body from functioning normally and having a sound rest. For people with asthma, who struggle with breathing even during daytime, this time of night comes with additional problems and significant danger – statistics show that over 70% or respiratory arrests and deaths caused by asthma happen at night. Coughing, wheezing and other asthmatic symptoms happening persistently and worsened at nighttime is what over 75% of people with asthma experience at least once a week. For others, it gets even worse. Perhaps this is the reason why many children with asthma first start to show symptoms at bedtime or during sleep.

Nocturnal asthma is problematic in more than one way. To begin with, it disrupts one’s sleep; struggling to fall asleep, only to be woken up a few hours later by a sudden cough attack is not the least bit pleasant, especially if it keeps happening night after night. People who regularly experience nocturnal asthma over time become sleep deprived and often develop other sleep-related issues or sleep disorders. Furthermore, sleep deprivation has a negative impact on one’s overall health, impairing the immune system and thus increasing the risk of an asthma attack during any time of the day. Nocturnal asthma is often trickier to handle because other people are sleeping; this poses an even bigger threat for a child with nocturnal asthma as an attack might be triggered with nobody available to react in time.

The cause of nocturnal asthma is unknown. Researchers are pointing to a few possible factors which, combined, could cause or worsen the existing symptoms in an individual.

Some additional risk factors include living in a city, smoking, being obese or having allergic rhinitis.


Nocturnal Asthma in Children

This phenomenon is potentially dangerous for all people with asthma, but particularly so for children. A child will often underreport what happens during the night, and as a result, their parents might not be aware of the full extent of the issues the child faces. Because of this, many children will go without appropriate treatment, heightening their mortality risk and aggravating daytime symptoms unnecessarily.

A study researched the effect of nocturnal asthma on children and their parents alike. The children displayed poorer academic performance and increased incidence of problematic behavior, as well as reduced overall quality of their and their parents’ lives. The more bad nights the child had, the lower was the quality and the length of sleep in the parents as well; both the parents and kids were also more likely to miss work and school than non-asthmatic children and their parents.

Children with nocturnal asthma are more likely to develop sleep disorders than their peers without such a condition. The most common sleep issues in children include:

Adults and children who have asthma are more likely to have sleep-related issues such as difficulties maintaining sleep, lower quality of sleep and excessive sleepiness due to those or other issues. Obstructive sleep apnea strikes about 70% more people who have asthma than people without it and remains the most common issue for children with asthma. Many adults with asthma get diagnosed with insomnia as well, resulting in sleep deprivation, unhappiness and a higher risk of mental health disorders like depression or anxiety.


How to Sleep Better with Asthma

Try to follow at least a few of the tips below to help ease your asthma symptoms and promote healthy sleep.


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