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7 Tips to Get a Better Night’s Sleep with COPD

Barbara Moore

The difference between a good day and a bad day is usually a good night’s sleep. Easier said than done for most of us with COPD.

Sleeping is a major complaint for people with lung issues. COPD has been linked to sleep problems, including insomnia and sleep apnea. The condition can cause feelings of breathlessness before and during sleep. In fact, most people I know with COPD only sleep in short spurts, often waking up zombie-like in the morning.

There are a few tricks I’ve found to rest better. Here are my tips for getting a good night’s sleep with COPD.

Talk to your doctor about sleep studies

Ask your doctor if you should take a sleep study. This test looks at how we breathe and our oxygen levels while we sleep to diagnose and treat sleeping problems, like sleep apnea.

Many people with COPD also have sleep apnea. People living with the condition often snore and stop breathing, and they then wake themselves gasping for air. This constant waking prevents a restful sleep.

I had a sleep study done to determine the quality of my sleep, and it showed that I had two problems. My oxygen levels decrease to dangerous levels as I enter REM sleep, stressing my

internal organs and cutting off oxygen to my brain. It also showed my sluggish lungs could not produce the proper oxygen exchange.

I was prescribed a device that helps with breathing called a BiPap along with nightly supplemental oxygen to support my lung function and oxygen levels during sleep.

Use your CPAP/BiPap machine

Your doctor may prescribe a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPap) machine to use anytime you’re sleeping or napping.

I was prescribed a BiPap ventilator along with nightly supplemental oxygen. My BiPap aids both inhalation and exhalation. I use a full facial mask that covers both my nose and my mouth. My doctors also explained that rest time needs to be scheduled, and I need to avoid couch napping.

I first thought I’d never be able to sleep with a full-face mask, but I soon learned it’s surprisingly easy. I breathe better without coughing spells during the night, and I wake feeling refreshed and headache-free in the morning.

I also make sure to keep my machine dust-free. I clean my mask every day and my entire BiPap system, including hoses and water containers, on a weekly basis.

Stick to a sleep schedule

One of the most important things you can do to ensure a good night’s sleep is to stick to a sleep schedule and set a bedtime routine.

I practice meditation with an online guided meditation for 25 to 35 minutes before bed. Practicing meditation may improve sleep in people with insomnia.

Meditating helps my breathing return to normal and clears my mind. It allows me to relax and put things into perspective.

I also grab a cup of sleepy chamomile herbal tea and write in my gratitude journal. Studies suggest that being grateful may help you fall asleep faster and improve sleep quality and duration.

I also set an alarm every morning, so I don’t oversleep and to avoid more problems getting a good night’s sleep the following night. It’s tough for the first few mornings, but it’s short-term pain for long-term gain.

Get rid of things that can keep you up

What and how much you eat can impact how well you sleep. I sleep better when I eat smaller, lighter meals.

I avoid all caffeine and high-carb or sugary foods. I try to have my biggest meal in the middle of the day and eat six small meals instead of three big ones. This helps me to feel less bloated and gives my body time to use the calories that I consume.

Screens also give off light that can mess with your sleep cycle. I turn off all phones, tablets, and TV an hour before bedtime.

Fit in fitness at the right time of day

My exercise schedule starts in the late morning or early afternoon. Exercise can help you sleep better. But I know that exercising after 6 p.m. keeps my brain stimulated and makes it hard to turn off the day.

Sleep with a wedge or body pillow

Most people I know with COPD complain that lying in a horizontal position causes shortness of breath. They find that it’s easier to sleep in a recliner chair at night because they can’t lay flat.

I also found it hard to lay horizontal. Using multiple pillows was also not an option for me.

I was introduced to a wedge pillow shortly after my first exacerbation, and it was a miracle. It keeps me in an upright position so I can breathe easier during the night. No more chairs for me.

Finding the most comfortable sleep position is not easy with COPD. I’m a side sleeper, so using a body pillow gives me something to lean into. It supports my knees and keeps pressure off my hips. Many people find this position helps them to breathe better.

Try a weighted blanket

The internet is full of chatter about the benefits of using weighted blankets. For me, the weight of the blanket helps relieve anxiety and chronic pain.

I was always a nervous sleeper as a child. I woke after just 1 to 2 hours of sleep and was unable to return to slumber until just before my alarm sounded.

Eventually, I found comfort in heavy wool blankets. When I was sick, my grandmother piled them on me. They helped me to get the best sleep.

I first heard about weighted blankets for children with autism, and I thought it was a great idea. Then I began to wonder if I could sleep better with one.

It turned out to be the final piece to my sleeping puzzle. I love my weighted blanket!

The takeaway

Getting a good night’s sleep helps you to function better during the day and is important for your overall health. My sleep schedule starts the moment I wake up and continues until I say goodnight.

Having your day and night planned gives you more control, so why not give it a go?

For more information on how to manage COPD, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.

NPS-US-NP-00671 JUNE 2020


The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen​. 

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