Sleeping while asthmatic: A guide to a better night's sleep

Your bedding can harbor serious amounts of allergens without showing.

Your bedding can harbor serious amounts of allergens without showing.

What you need to know:

  • Even after doing your best to remove allergens in your room, you can still experience nocturnal asthma attacks.
  • Keep the medication within reach. If you are taking tablets or get thirsty at night, have some warm water nearby to avoid taking cold drinks.

Do you experience severer asthma symptoms at night? You are not alone. Almost 70 percent of people with asthma report having attacks more frequently at night, and with severer symptoms. This is known as night-time or nocturnal asthma, and some studies suggest the statistics may be under-reported.

Nocturnal asthma disrupts the sleep of millions of patients, which affects their rest and productivity the next day. Although it is not fully understood why the symptoms are worse at night, experts attribute it to increased cold at night and the presence of triggers in the bedroom.

Reduce allergens in your bedroom

One primary reason for asthma worsening at night is increased allergens in the bedroom. Some people have their dressers, full of make-up and other perfumed products in the bedroom. This is not recommended even for people without respiratory diseases. As an asthmatic person, you do not have the luxury to take the risk. Sleeping in the presence of such products can trigger serious attacks. Take the dresser and the products to another room. Also, do not use body sprays, deodorants, and perfumes before bedtime.

Do not let dust accumulate in your room. Dust loves cluttered spaces. Declutter your room and clean it often. If you have been to the farm or anywhere your clothes may have picked pollen, dust, or other allergens, do not bring those clothes into your bedroom.

Check your bedding

Your bedding can harbor serious amounts of allergens without showing. If you use hair products, for example, the products may linger on your pillow. Over time, a mixture of the products and night-sweat can become a trigger for night-time attacks. If you can, reduce the use of such products or wear something to prevent the products from rubbing off on the bedding. If you can't, change and clean your bedding as often as you can.

For some people, the fabric may be the problem. Most patients report synthetic bedding as the main culprit while a minority claim cotton products affect them. Feather pillows have also been hailed as being friendly to people with asthma. Observe if the attacks happen more when you use certain beddings. If this proves to be the case, keep off that bedding and similar fabrics, and go for friendlier ones.

Keep the bedroom warm but fresh

You may notice that night-time asthma attacks occur when it's coldest, usually, around 3 AM to dawn. This is because the cold air leads to bronchoconstriction, a condition where the smooth muscles around your airways tighten, making it difficult to breathe. The best way to avoid this is by ensuring the temperature in your room is warm enough. You can use a space heater for this purpose but be sure to place it away from anything that can catch fire easily.

Also, regulate the temperature so that it's not too high causing you to sweat. Sweat creates a cooling effect on your body that triggers an attack.

If you don't have a heater, sleep in warm clothes and bedding and close holes or spaces in the wall that could bring cold draught from outside. Leave just enough openings to allow air circulation. Ideally, the ventilation ducts are sufficient, unless the room is crowded.

Choose the right sleeping position

Your sleeping position affects the ease with which you breathe. If your nose and airways are blocked or strained, it can trigger an asthma attack. The best positions for sleeping while asthmatic include:

  • Sleeping on your back with elevated head and shoulders

One or two pillows may be enough depending on the size of the pillows. This propped-up position opens airways allowing you to breathe normally through the night. You can improve this position by elevating your knees by placing a pillow beneath.

  • On your left side

Sleeping on your side with an elevated head can also help open your airways. In addition, it reduces the chances of acid reflux, which is known to irritate the throat and trigger asthma attacks. If the elevation of the head isn't adequate, put another pillow between your legs.


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