The Importance of Quality Sleep

It may improve your COPD symptoms.

Sleep is key to power your mind and restore your body. But if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and struggle to get a good night’s sleep, you’re not alone—over 75% of people with COPD have difficulty sleeping. There are lots of reasons people with COPD may struggle to sleep. They may have a hard time falling asleep due to excessive coughing, or their shortness of breath may worsen when they lie flat on their backs. Medications for COPD, like prednisone, can also cause a person to have trouble sleeping.


Insomnia, or poor sleep, can worsen COPD symptoms. Sleep not only helps with tissue and cell repair but also helps maintain good mental health. For adults, at least 7 hours of sleep per night is recommended. Proper rest helps people function their best throughout the day, and good sleep can actually help improve COPD symptoms.

How to practise good sleep hygiene

Practising sleep hygiene is essential to getting a good night’s rest. Sleep hygiene is all the small things you can do to optimize your sleep. Consider the following tips that may help you improve your quality of sleep and manage your COPD more effectively.

Sleep Position


Sleeping with your head and shoulders slightly elevated will take some stress off your lungs and allow you to breathe easier during the night. (This position also helps prevent acid reflux!)

You can elevate the head of your bed slightly by propping up the head end of your bed frame (e.g. placing wood blocks under each leg at the top of the bed).

Alternatively, you can try placing multiple pillows or a wedge pillow under your head and shoulders to achieve your desired height.

Physical Activity


Exercise, movement, and physical activity bring countless benefits to people with COPD, including improving their sleep quality.


Regular exercise increases oxygen delivery to the tissues, improves shortness of breath over time, and helps people to sleep better.


However, avoid high-intensity exercise or other stressful activities for 2 hours before bed.

Oxygen Therapy


If you have COPD, your oxygen levels might drop while you sleep. Oxygen therapy at night can ensure your oxygen levels stay in the normal range and allow you to sleep better. Talk to your doctor or health care provider to learn more about oxygen therapy and if it is a good fit for you.

Changes to your diet


Your diet has a big impact on the quality of your sleep, especially in the hours before you go to bed. Try to avoid caffeine in the afternoons and evenings if you struggle to fall asleep at night. Alcohol, although it may make you drowsy, can often result in a poor quality of sleep and can also cause you to wake up earlier than you had intended. Large meals too close to bed can also interfere with sleep for some people, while for others, a light bedtime snack can help them fall asleep.

Cut out Distractions


Keep your room quiet, dark, and cool. This means keeping electronics such as your smartphone, computer, and TV out of the bedroom. Blackout curtains help block outside light. A white noise machine or fan can create ambient noise if you find your surroundings too quiet.



Many people with chronic illnesses require rest throughout the day. However, for those who struggle to sleep at night, excessive daytime napping may be the cause. Try to limit napping to earlier in the day, and aim for short 20- to 30-minute naps instead of longer ones.

Create rituals


A consistent bedtime routine programs your brain and internal clock to relax at the same time each evening, so try to go to bed around the same time every night.

Creating a relaxing ritual before going to bed, like listening to calming music or taking a warm bath, is a great way to help your body and mind relax. Over time, your body will take these routines as cues to wind down and get ready for sleep.

Another routine that can help with poor sleep is to try to get up at the same time every morning, regardless of how much you slept the night before. This can be difficult, but over time it helps the body know when to sleep and when to wake up.

Get tested for sleep apnea


There is sometimes an overlap between sleep apnea and COPD—it’s estimated that 10% to 15% of people with COPD have sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is caused by the relaxation of the soft tissues in the throat while sleeping which can lead to an airway blockage, known as an apnea. Apneas cause oxygen levels to drop. When this happens, the brain sends a signal to wake up or come into a lighter stage of sleep in order to take a deep breath. This may trigger a sudden big breath or gasp for air.

Symptoms of sleep apnea include pauses in breathing while asleep, gasping, and loud snoring (bed partners or family members may often notice these), as well as excessive daytime sleepiness. If you have any sleep apnea symptoms, ask your doctor about scheduling a sleep study—a test that diagnoses sleep apnea. Untreated sleep apnea can actually make the symptoms of COPD worse. The best treatment for sleep apnea in people with COPD is using a CPAP breathing machine.

Proper sleep is one of the essential building blocks

of staying health while living with COPD. In addition to getting a good night’s sleep, regular exercise can also help you effectively manage your symptoms. To learn about COPD and exercise, click here.