COPD and sleep

Contributed by Jim Nelson, consultant to CAIRE Inc.It is hard enough to get a decent night’s sleep in today’s world. With jobs and kids, or grandkids, and finances and that idiot yappy little dog next door, sleep sometimes feels very far away. Those of us with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, may have an even tougher time getting enough rest.

COPD patients are familiar with shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and the extra effort involved in breathing. With compromised lungs, the airways may be constricted  by inflammation or swelling and partially blocked with excess mucus. The alveoli, the microscopic air sacs in the lungs where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place, may be damaged, limiting their ability to perform their tasks. The lungs gradually lose their elasticity, making it harder to expel the air that is trapped.

Most people do not breathe as deeply when they are asleep. It is not uncommon for blood oxygen levels to drop to dangerous levels. Those of us who use supplemental oxygen will normally wear it at night to insure that the oxygen saturation stays up. Low oxygen levels in the blood can result in cell damage throughout the body, but especially in the brain and the right side of the heart. Wearing a cannula at night can be uncomfortable at first, but it usually does not take long to get accustomed to it. The protection that it affords is very well worth it.

Sleep studies with COPD patients reveal that they generally suffer from poor quality of sleep. They tend to arouse more frequently, to bounce between stages of sleep, light slumber to deeper sleep and back, more frequently. Their total sleep time suffers. In some, a disorder called sleep apnea can interfere with the patient’s sleep and the sleep of those around them. There are several symptoms that indicate the apnea. Probably the most prevalent, and perhaps most annoying to anyone within earshot, is snoring. The volume of the snoring may range from fairly quiet to pretty spectacular.

It is rare for the snorer to wake themselves, so we must rely on sleeping partners or family to point it out. The second symptom is more likely to wake the sleeper, but usually the remarks of others will be the first indication. That symptom consists of the holding of one’s breath for a few seconds to most of a minute, followed by gasping for air. It can be quite disconcerting for the listener, as they will find themselves counting the seconds, waiting for the next inhalation.

Insomnia can be a symptom, as can disturbed sleep. A sore throat or dry mouth can result from sleeping with an open mouth. Feeling drowsy during the day is a sign of an uneasy night’s sleep as can forgetfulness and mood swings.

A diagnosis of sleep apnea can be treated with either a CPAP or a BiPAP machine. Either of them uses pressurized air to keep the breathing passages open, helping to stop the snoring and the breath-holding. The elimination of those sleep-destroying activities serves to alleviate the other symptoms; the drowsiness and forgetfulness, and changes in mood.

The apnea diagnosis usually comes after a sleep study. The monitoring of sleep patterns both with and without the mask that delivers the pressurized air helps to determine the diagnosis and the severity. Like the oxygen cannula, the mask seems unusual at first, but it soon becomes another part of life. Again like the cannula, the health benefits are so very worth it!

~ Uncle Jim

Jim Nelson is a double lung transplant recipient and a patient advocate for COPD patients throughout the U.S. and around the world. He and his wife, Mary, are well known patient advocates and brand ambassadors for those organizations who tirelessly endeavor to help those individuals who suffer from a variety of respiratory diseases and the caregivers who support them.

If you have been prescribed oxygen therapy, learn more about CAIRE wearableportable and stationary oxygen concentrators by visiting or calling 1-877-704-0878 to talk to an oxygen advisor. 

When using any oxygen therapy device please consult the applicable product instructions for use for product indications, contraindications, warnings, precautions, and detailed safety information.

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