Sleep and asthma

Asthma keeping you awake at night? Here’s how to deal with night-time symptoms

What to do when asthma stops you sleeping

Simple tips to stop asthma waking you at night

Why asthma can wake you up at night

Tips from other people with asthma

Who can I speak to if my sleep problems continue?

It’s quite common for people with asthma to find that asthma symptoms wake them up at night – but you shouldn’t have to put up with them.

If you’re coughing, wheezing, breathless, or have a tight chest at night, it’s a sign that your asthma is not well controlled and you might be at risk of an asthma attack.

Early morning asthma symptoms may also be a sign that your asthma has been difficult through the night, even if you weren’t aware of it. 

Here are some simple steps you can take to stop asthma getting in the way of a good night’s sleep.

What to do when asthma stops you sleeping

  • If you have asthma symptoms, sit up and take your reliever inhaler (usually blue) as prescribed. 
  • Always make sure your inhaler is beside your bed before you go to sleep, so you don’t have to search for it in the middle of the night.
  • “Give yourself a bit of time to check your reliever medicine has dealt with your symptoms before you go back to sleep,” says Dr Andy Whittamore. “This is better than falling asleep straight away only to wake up soon after with asthma symptoms because your reliever didn’t help enough.”
  • Some people find propping themselves up with extra pillows helps as it keeps the airways open.

Asthma and your sleep

Dr. Andy Whittamore explains why you should book an appointment with your GP if your asthma is keeping you awake at night.

Video: Asthma and your sleep

Dr. Andy Whittamore explains why you should book an appointment with your GP if your asthma is keeping you awake at night.
Transcript for Asthma and your sleep

0:04 We hear from a lot of people on our

0:07 helpline and on social media that asthma does

0:10 interrupt their sleep on a

0:11 regular basis. As a health care

0:13 professional I know that unfortunately,

0:14 this means that your asthma is not quite

0:16 as well controlled as it can be. And it's

0:18 worth making appointment with your GP or

0:20 your practice nurse to see what we can

0:21 do to help relieve those symptoms and

0:24 actually improve your quality of sleep.

Simple tips to stop asthma waking you at night in the long-term

You don’t have to just accept your night-time asthma symptoms as normal.

  • Using your preventer inhaler every day, as prescribed, will build up protection in your airways and keep your asthma symptoms under control, so they’re less likely to wake you at night.
  • If you’re having asthma symptoms at night or noticing asthma symptoms when you first wake up, you should make a same day appointment to see your GP or asthma nurse. Symptoms that keep you awake at night are one of the signs you might be at risk of an asthma attack.

It’s also important to:

  • Use your written asthma action plan to help you understand how to manage your symptoms and what to do if they get worse.  
  • Go for regular asthma reviews with your GP or asthma nurse. They can check you’re using your inhalers correctly. It’s also a chance to talk about any triggers that might be affecting your sleep.  

Why asthma can wake you up at night

If your asthma isn’t under control, you might get more symptoms at night.

There are several reasons why this might happen:

  • At night, your body produces fewer natural steroid hormones, which can affect your symptoms and more of the cells that cause inflammation in your airways.
  • When you lie flat on your back, gravity places extra pressure on your chest and lungs, making it harder to breathe. This position can also trigger a cough, as mucus in your nose could drip down to the back of your throat.
  • Your bedroom might contain triggers that can make your asthma worse, such as dust mites in your mattress, pillows and blankets.
  • Pet hair is a common asthma trigger, so avoid letting your pet sleep on your bed, and ideally keep them out of your bedroom.  
  • Mould is another common asthma trigger, so check your bedroom for damp patches on walls and mould growing around windows.
  • Lots of people find pollen triggers their asthma symptoms. When pollen is high, try using a fan to keep your bedroom cool rather than opening a window.
  • Some people are triggered by cold air at night, or by sleeping in a cold room. If this is you, keep windows closed and keep the heating on low in the bedroom if you can. 

If your GP has prescribed steroid pills for your asthma, you’ll probably be advised to take them in the morning after food, as they might cause difficulty sleeping if you take them at night, but always take them exactly as prescribed.

Don’t be tempted to stop taking the tablets early. It’s important to finish the course to bring your asthma back under control, otherwise your symptoms might come back and keep you awake anyway.

Tips from other people with asthma

If your asthma is keeping you awake at night, you’re not alone.

In our recent sleep survey, 45% of people told us they have difficulty sleeping because of their asthma at least once a week, and nearly 50% said they’d had an asthma attack at night.

Here are some of the things that people tell us help them get a good night’s sleep, which our nurses agree might be helpful:

  • Ease a dry throat with a glass of water
  • Try a nasal saline rinse or use decongestants to unblock a stuffy nose (but test this out during the day first: some people find products like Olbas Oil or Vicks trigger their asthma symptoms)
  • Take regular exercise
  • Relax in the evening using mindfulness, meditation, breathing exercises or yoga
  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.

If you find reading about other people’s experiences useful, or have some advice to share, join the conversations on our HealthUnlocked forum.

Is your child disturbed by symptoms at night? Read our advice on asthma and your child’s sleep.

Who can I speak to if my sleep problems continue? 

Need some more advice? Speak to your GP or asthma nurse.

You can also call our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 and talk to an expert asthma nurse (Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm), or message them on WhatsApp.

Last updated: September 2019

Next review due: September 2022

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