A good night’s sleep is always the goal, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen this way. We’ve all been victims of insomnia and restless nights, but what toll is it taking on our health? A lack of sleep can cause higher blood sugar levels, liver problems, weight gain and severe depression. We should all be paying close attention to our sleep patterns, but new research suggests that those with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) may want to pay extra close attention.
How sleep deprivation affects COPD
Experiencing flare-ups and challenges with your breathing can last for days or weeks and take a toll on your life, especially when they are caused by things that are out of your control such as air pollution and allergens. Although poor slumber can significantly increase the risk of life-threatening flare-ups and breathing problems, there is good news. The good news is that, for the most part, you have the power to control your sleep patterns.
“Among those who already have COPD, knowing how they sleep at night will tell me much more about their risk of a flare-up than knowing whether they smoked for 40 versus 60 years,” says study lead author Dr. Aaron Baugh. He is a clinical fellow at the University of California, San Francisco Medical School and a practicing pulmonologist.
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If this news comes as a surprise to you, you’re not alone. Doctors are also surprised by the revelation that smoking, the leading cause of COPD, may not provide the biggest insight into your risk of developing a flare-up.
“That is very surprising, and is not necessarily what I expected going into this study. Smoking is such a central process to COPD that I would have predicted it would be the more important predictor in the case of exacerbations,” Baugh adds.
Poor sleep can also weaken the immune system and make people with COPD more susceptible to colds and the flu, which can make your COPD flare-ups worse.
Just how devastating is sleep deprivation to your COPD? To examine the impact of poor sleep on COPD flare-ups, researchers monitored sleep quality and flare-ups among more than 1,600 COPD patients in the United States for three years. All were former or current smokers.
Poor sleep was strongly associated with a higher number of COPD flare-ups. Compared to those with the best sleep, the risk of a flare-up within the next year was 25% higher among patients with poor sleep and nearly 95% higher among those with the worst sleep.
The findings suggest that poor sleep may be a better predictor of flare-ups than a person’s smoking history, according to the authors of the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)-funded study, which was published online June 6 in the journal Sleep.
“Sleep has not been extensively studied as a modifier of COPD outcomes,” Marishka Brown, director of the NHLBI’s National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, added in an NHLBI news release. “This study adds to a growing knowledge base demonstrating the harmful effects of poor sleep on health in general but [it] can be particularly damaging in people with devastating pre-existing conditions, such as COPD.”
How to get better sleep
COPD affects more than 16 million Americans and is a leading cause of death. Many people with COPD also unknowingly have