Asthma, Sleep, & Inflammation: What's the Connection?

Asthma, Sleep, & Inflammation: What's the Connection?

I'm sure you've heard how important getting enough sleep is to your overall health. But did you know that your sleep patterns might also specifically influence your respiratory health? In addition, asthma may affect your sleep habits.

A number of studies have linked asthma and sleep. Inflammation may be the connecting factor. Let's take a closer look.

The link between sleep and inflammation

Inflammation is a natural response of your immune system. It is meant to be protective, especially against infection or injury, and can help your body heal. However, we now know that chronic inflammation is also an integral factor in many chronic illnesses, including asthma. And in those cases, it is actually harmful.

For instance, with allergies and asthma, inflammation occurs in response to a perceived threat from an allergen or trigger, such as pollen or dust. These "threats" are not actually harmful substances for most people. But in sensitive people, the body sees them as harmful and strives to protect you. The body mounts an attack against this so-called intruder and produces symptoms in the airways that actually make it harder to breathe.

Lack of sleep can make you tired, groggy and cranky. A study published in 2016, though, looked a little deeper into the effects of both too little sleep and too much sleep. They reviewed 72 different reports in the literature, involving more than 50,000 participants in various clinical studies. And what they found was that too little or too much sleep seemed to increase inflammation.

More research is needed to fully understand why sleep disturbances result in inflammation, but the link does seem clear.

How asthma affects sleep

A study done at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and published in Chest journal looked at 714 adults who had confirmed asthma. Various questionnaires were completed by each participant that explored these areas:

Most of the patients were white females. However, all participants were otherwise similar in relation to age, race, smoking status and in how long they'd had asthma. The researchers found that about 37% of the patients did report that they had insomnia. In fact:

  • 34% had severe or very severe difficulty falling asleep
  • 36% had severe or very severe difficulty staying asleep
  • 31% reported waking up too early
  • 33% said they had trouble functioning during the day because of sleep

This rate of insomnia in these asthma sufferers was about three times the rate in the general population for insomnia. The study also showed that those who had insomnia tended to have a higher BMI, which indicates being overweight or obese. They also struggled with asthma control. Interestingly, though, the nighttime sleep disturbances were not necessarily related to having asthma symptoms that kept the participants awake or work them up. Depression was also more common among those with insomnia.

As you can see, asthma not only affected sleep, but also the lack of sleep impacted asthma control. And the bottom line was that lack of sleep and the resulting effects on asthma definitely affected quality of life.

Insomnia may affect risk for asthma

Two recent studies are now suggesting that insomnia might also increase a person's risk for developing asthma. A study out of Taiwan reviewed 48,871 patients with insomnia from Taiwan’s Longitudinal Health Insurance Database 2000. They followed patients for 4 years to see if asthma developed. They did find that the patients with insomnia had a significantly greater rate of developing asthma than those without insomnia.

An 11-year Nord-Trøndelag Health Study (commonly known as the HUNT Study) published similar findings in the European Respiratory Journal. What they found was that adults who had chronic symptoms of insomnia were more than three times as likely to develop asthma. And this was independent of other common factors associated with insomnia, such as other chronic illnesses, anxiety or depression.

In summary

It seems clear that there is evidence to suggest that there is some kind of connection between asthma, inflammation, and lack of sleep. Scientists are not entirely sure of the exact nature or mechanism of this connection, however.

How about you? Do you suffer from insomnia? Does it affect your asthma control or your quality of life? Did you have insomnia before or after you were diagnosed with asthma?

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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