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Sleep and Asthma: Easing Breathing Problems at Night

Trouble with breathing problems at night? You’re not alone. Many asthma sufferers find that their symptoms are worse at bedtime, preventing them from getting a good night’s sleep. So what causes breathing problems at night? How can you ease the symptoms? And what’s the best bedding for asthma sufferers?

What causes wheezing and coughing at night?

Firstly, is it asthma? Breathing problems at night can be caused by a number of short-term illnesses and on-going medical conditions. These include:
  • Nocturnal asthma: Asthma symptoms can often be worse at night due to a variety of factors, including allergies and airways working less effectively.
  • Allergic rhinitis: Often caused by an allergy to dust mites, allergic rhinitis can trigger episodes of coughing at night. It can be experienced by both asthmatics and non-asthmatics.
  • Cold and flu virus: Night-time coughing caused by a cold or flu virus tends to be short-term and clears up once the illness has gone. If you continue to have difficulty breathing at night after your cold has gone, you should speak with your GP for advice.

What triggers asthma attacks at night?

There are a number of reasons why your asthma may be worse at night – we’ve summarised some of the most common ones below:
  • Colder airways work less effectively, resulting in a narrowing that causes coughing or wheezing. However, before turning up the heating, it’s important to consider the effect of overheating at night, particularly for babies and young children. Learn more about baby sleeping temperature.
  • Lying flat can also cause coughing at night due to a combination of factors such as decreased lung volume and build-up of catarrh in the airways.
  • Night-time allergies such as allergic rhinitis can cause catarrh to flow from the nose to the throat, triggering coughing. House dust mites are one of the most common causes of night-time allergies as they like to live in mattresses and bedding.
  • Incorrect medication use or dosage: Regularly coughing and wheezing at night could be a sign that you are not taking your medicine effectively or that the dosage or type of medication needs to be reviewed.

How to ease breathing problems at night

Sticking to your medication routine and keeping your reliever inhaler to hand during the night are both essential to managing difficulty breathing at night. But there are other steps you can take to ease symptoms of your asthma cough at night and potentially reduce the risk of an asthma attack at night:
  • Keep allergens at bay: Eliminate house dust mites and dust mite allergens from your bedding and bed by sleeping in wool bedding. This natural fiber is highly effective at repelling dust mites and keeping them out of your bed, so you can get a better night’s sleep.
  • ,strong>Sleep on extra pillows: If lying down flat seems to trigger an episode of coughing, try propping yourself on an extra pillow or two. This can help to ease problems associated with catarrh and reduced lung capacity.
  • Maintain a good sleeping routine: While a regular bedtime routine won’t alleviate the symptoms of an asthma cough at night, it can help you to settle to sleep more easily, increasing your chances of getting a good night’s sleep.
  • Watch out for other triggers: Pet hair, pollen and stress can all cause difficulty breathing at night. It’s important to identify any triggers that cause breathing problems at night for you so you can take steps to minimise these.
  • Ask your GP or asthma nurse about changes to medication: If you regularly experience coughing and wheezing at night, or if your symptoms get worse, see your GP or nurse to review your medication. If possible, take along a record of your recent peak flow readings.

Getting quality sleep is paramount for a healthy lifestyle, which is why it’s important to reduce your breathing problems at night. But if you’re looking for more tips on getting a better night’s sleep, visit our Sleep Health and Advice Hub to learn more about hypoallergenic bedding, night sweats and more.
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