Asthma and Insomnia
As some people lay down into bed for the night, they expect to drift off to sleep if a few minutes. There are others that lay awake, tossing and turning, unable to break the threshold into sleep. This is called 'insomnia', which is defined by the Mayo Clinic as a persistent difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early and unable to fall back asleep.1
As someone who has experienced both severe asthma and insomnia, I never thought the two could be connected. In our recent Asthma In America survey, it was recorded that 17% of people in our Asthma.net community experience insomnia with their asthma. This made me think, is there a connection between asthma and insomnia?
The asthma-insomnia connection
There have been studies conducted to examine the relationship between asthma and insomnia. For a while, it was a common belief that night-time asthma symptoms were the cause of poor sleep quality. As the Severe Asthma Research Program (SARP) found, 37% of participants experienced insomnia with their asthma, but 25% reported insomnia without asthma symptoms during the night.2 This illustrated that asthma symptoms could not be solely responsible for higher rates of insomnia in people with asthma.
So why is insomnia more common among asthmatics? Asthma patients often report a higher instance of anxiety and/or depression; both are associated with insomnia.3 It's possible that asthma creates other stress factors that impact the sleep of a patient. Insomnia has also been associated with worsening lung function, fatigue and a lower quality of life.3 So, asthma influencing insomnia and insomnia exacerbating asthma is a vicious circle that can seriously impact the wellbeing of a patient.
My experience with asthma and insomnia
About a week after I moved to California, I developed appendicitis. Until I got my appendix removed, I was incredibly sick and in a lot of pain; the whole ordeal lasted about 2 weeks. When I returned to my new school, I was bullied for being the new kid who was also sick. At this point is when I started to have issues sleeping.
As a kid, my bedtime was about 8:30, but I would lay awake until 2 AM or so. I had no TV or computer in my room, I was truly just lying there awake. My parents tried everything they could think of to help, warm milk, Benadryl, reading to me, honestly anything to help me sleep. Unfortunately, nothing worked.
How insomnia affected me
Insomnia was one of the hardest things I’ve experienced. Running on just a few hours of sleep a night, for about 8 months, I felt the consequences. My grades plummeted, I became increasingly stressed and I had almost no friends because I was just too tired to be social. My insomnia never affected my asthma, but I was very disconnected because of how exhausted I was.
How to manage insomnia
My insomnia went away on it’s own, around the time of summer break. My best guess is that the move, surgery and new school, was too overwhelming for me. The unending cycle of stress kept my insomnia around. Luckily, the Mayo Clinic provides some ideas about how you can treat your insomnia. Here's some information I wish I had at the time:1
- Stimulus control therapy- Making the stimuli, associated with sleep, strictly associated with sleep.
- Relaxation techniques- Meditation or other techniques to reduce anxiety before sleep.
- Sleep restriction- Making sure that the only time you are in bed is to sleep at night, similar to stimulus control. Also, avoiding napping during the day.
- Remaining passively awake- Trying to stay awake in bed, rather than fall asleep. A paradoxical method aimed at reducing the anxiety or pressure to be sleepy.
- Light therapy- Managing the light source in your sleeping space to accommodate your sleep schedule.
There are also sleep medications but asthma medications might interact with a sleep medication.Talk to your doctor about what sleep medication might work best for you.
Many people with asthma also suffer from insomnia, even if it's not asthma symptoms that are the cause. If you don't have asthma symptoms that contribute, it could be psychologically related, like mine. It can be helped by reducing stress and anxiety.1
If you have more questions about how to manage your insomnia and asthma, speak with a doctor. It's important to manage insomnia because lack of sleep can contribute to other issues, including exacerbation of asthma.
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