It’s quite common for people with asthma to find that coughing, wheezing and breathlessness wakes them up at night – but you shouldn’t have to put up with it.
If you’re coughing and wheezing at night, it’s a sign that your asthma is not well controlled and you might be at risk of an asthma attack.
Here are some simple steps you can take to stop asthma getting in the way of a good night’s sleep.
- If you have asthma symptoms, sit up straight 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.
- Some people find propping themselves up with extra pillows helps as it keeps the airways open.
Video: Asthma and your sleepDr. 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.
You don’t have to just accept your night-time asthma symptoms as normal.
Science shows that if your asthma is waking you at night, it’s a sign it’s not well controlled.
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, you should make an appointment to see your GP or asthma nurse within 24 hours. 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.
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 chests 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. It might be better to use a fan to keep your bedroom cool rather than opening a window.
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.
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
- Use decongestants, like Olbas Oil and Vicks, to unblock a stuffy nose (but test this out during the day first: some people find they trigger their asthma symptoms). You could also try a nasal saline rinse to unblock your nose.
- 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.
Need some more advice? Speak to your GP or asthma nurse.
Last updated: September 2019
Next review due: September 2022