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Portable Oxygen Concentrator Resource Center

Restorative Sleep with COPD and Sleep Apnea

Posted by Lisa Burkhart on Aug 9, 2017 11:27:26 AM
Lisa Burkhart



Older Lady Sleeping.jpg

Every living thing that has a brain sleeps in one form or another. Sleep is the body’s time to restore and heal so it is imperative for everyone, especially for those who are trying to battle or heal from health challenges. Many times when people are ill, sleep is the first thing to suffer, weakening the immune system and prolonging healing, which further disturbs sleep, and on and on, in a downward spiral.

To get the amount of sleep you need while on the road to recovery, it is sometimes necessary to supplement nighttime sleep with naps or to change your nighttime sleeping position. For instance elevating your head or placing pillows under your knees may help certain conditions.

Making Sure you Get Good Rest with COPD

Oftentimes COPD medications can affect your sleep. If you have experienced prolonged sleep issues that you suspect have to do with your medications, be sure to bring it up with your doctor.

Sometimes lying flat can be uncomfortable for those with congestive heart problems or those with breathing issues. When the heart is weakened, blood sometimes becomes backed up in the blood vessels, which causes fluid to leak into the lungs. When you’re standing or sitting up gravity helps keep the flow going, but makes it difficult when lying down.

Sleeping on your side can also ease the chest pressure making it easier to breathe by taking the gravitational pull off of your chest. Sleeping on your right side may aggravate acid reflux if you suffer from GERD so be sure to sleep on your left side if that is a problem.

Many have opted for sleep chair recliners to get the rest that they need. Sometimes the chairs are used to catch a catnap during the day to supplement sleep or even as their primary sleep space.

If you don’t have a recliner that’s comfortable for sleeping, piling a couple of pillows up or using a pillow wedge may help. This is probably less comfortable for side sleepers and may cause stiffness in the neck.

Sleep Apnea

Many with COPD also snore either because their airway passages are inflamed or because they have sleep apnea. Be aware that sometimes things that people take to help them sleep, worsen sleep apnea.

Sleeping pills, alcohol, and sedatives relax your muscles further constricting the throat.

Quitting smoking is the single best thing that you can do to help your COPD and smoking right before bedtime is likely to worsen sleep apnea.

Maintain a healthy weight. Men with a collar size of 17 or more, or ladies with a collar size of 16 or greater are more likely to suffer from sleep apnea.

Sleeping with a wedge pillow or in a chair uses gravity to help keep airways clear relieving throat airway restriction. Raising your head a little will keep your tongue lower down in your mouth

When is Snoring Sleep Apnea?

It is estimated that as many as 90 million Americans snore during the night. About half ofsnoring.jpg those suffer from OSA, or Obstructive Sleep Apnea. Snoring is a result of the tissues in the throat relaxing and vibrating causing a sound. Sleep apnea, however may be characterized by snoring, but is defined as breath stoppages caused by the throat constricting. These breath constrictions can sometimes last up to a minute. If bed partners have said that you gasp for breath during the night, this could be sleep apnea.

If you Suspect you Have Sleep Apnea

Don't wait, call your doctor today! There is evidence that OSA contributes to the development of serious health conditions such as high blood pressure, stoke, diabetes, congestive heath failure, and even death.

How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

Your primary care doctor will likely send you to a sleep specialist. They will probably begin with having you keep a sleep diary for 2 weeks. You will note any disturbances in sleep, when you felt short of breath when you woke up, and the days you felt drowsy even after a full night's sleep.

If there are concerns, the doctor will then either send you home with a home sleep monitor, or assign you to a sleep center for an overnight study.  

Home Sleep Monitor

For the home test you will be instructed how to use the monitor by staff at the clinic, You should use it nightly so it can record information such as heart and breath rate when you are sleeping. At the end of the prescribed period, return it to the sleep center so that they can analyze the data that the monitor collected and make recommendations from there. If you already have pulmonary issues, be sure to tell the sleep center, as you may not be eligible for a home test.

Overnight Sleep Study

If you are assigned to an overnight sleep study you will report to the center in the evening. The rooms at most sleep centers are very much like hotel rooms, private, with televisions, and bathrooms. You will be hooked up to a variety of sensors and monitored through the night. Your sleep specialist will use the data collected to ascertain if you have sleep apnea and recommend treatment. Often, patients will be required to make 2 trips to an overnight clinic to ensure results are not an anomaly the first time.


We all have a wakeful night every now and then but if this has become a problem that persists for several nights a week, see your doctor. The detriments of lack of sleep can not be overstated especially for those with COPD or other serious health issues. Some sleep problems are situational when we are going through a stressful time but some are a result of an imbalance in body chemistry. Please call your doctor if fatigue or sleeplessness at night has become an issue.

Topics: COPD, Sleep Apnea, insomnia

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