Quality sleep is essential for overall health. Poor sleep or sleep deprivation can lead to a variety of problems, such as difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, and irritability. Lack of sleep can also make fatigue worse.
Although sleep is vital, most of us do not get enough shuteye. According to the American Sleep Association, about a third of adults report sleeping less than seven hours a night.
If you have a chronic lung disease, such as pulmonary fibrosis, it might make you more vulnerable to sleep problems. Symptoms of PF may make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Shortness of breath, coughing, and anxiety may all interfere with sleep. Also, gastroesophageal reflux, which sometimes affects people with pulmonary fibrosis, can also make sleep more difficult.
Sleep Disorders and PF
Recent research has also indicated that sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea, may be prevalent in people with pulmonary fibrosis. Untreated, sleep apnea increases your risk of cardiovascular problems including high blood pressure and a heart attack.
Obstructive sleep apnea involves temporary pauses in breathing during your sleep. It occurs when airflow is blocked as the muscles in the throat relax. There are a few options to treat obstructive apnea including the use of CPAP.
Improving Sleep with Pulmonary Fibrosis
Various factors affect how soundly you sleep. Symptoms of PF, underlying sleep disorders, and lifestyle habits can all play a role in sleep difficulties. When it comes to improving sleep, it’s important to control the factors you can.
Managing symptoms of PF may improve your sleep. For example, taking medications a few hours before going to bed to decrease coughing may improve sleep.
Decreased oxygen levels overnight are common for people with pulmonary fibrosis. Talk with your doctor about whether you should have an overnight oximetry study to check your oxygen levels while you sleep. Using oxygen at night may help you sleep better and improve how you feel in the morning.
Be aware of your sleep environment. Most people sleep better in a cool, dark, quiet bedroom. Some people have increased shortness of breath when they are lying flat. It may be helpful to adjust your sleep position, especially if you also have GERD. Consider lying on your side with your head elevated by pillows.
Another option is lying on your back with a pillow under your knees, and your head elevated. Keep in mind; you may have to try different sleep positions to find one that works for you.
Airflow stimulation from a fan may also help decrease shortness of breath. Although it may not help everyone, a fan may be a useful nonpharmacological intervention to decrease the sensation of breathlessness.
General Sleep Tips
Consider some of the following tips, which may help improve the quality of your sleep:
- Limit caffeine a few hours before bed, since it can make falling asleep more difficult.
- Do some form of exercise as tolerated on most days of the week. Regular exercise may help improve sleep quality.
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking the same time each day helps you develop a set internal sleep rhythm.
- Avoid eating a large meal a few hours before bed.
- Allow yourself time to unwind and relax before bed.
- Limit tech time. The light from your cellphone or laptop can trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime.
- Consider doing pursed lip breathing before bed. Pursed lip breathing may decrease shortness of breath and help you relax.
Content written by Dr. Jeremy Feldman, an expert in Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, with contributions by MaryAnn DePietro, B.S. CRT, a licensed respiratory therapist.