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Johns Hopkins Health Alert

COPD and Sleep Disorders: Common and Serious

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Anywhere from one-third to one-half of all people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have sleep disorders. Consequences of not getting enough sleep include a weakened immune system, which makes you more vulnerable to infection, and daytime sleepiness, which can prevent you from getting the exercise you need to help strengthen your heart and lungs.

Why is sleep so difficult for people with COPD?  Coughing, chest pain and medication side effects are sometimes to blame. Other conditions common in people with COPD, such as restless legs syndrome and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), may also be a factor. 

  • Oxygen levels are already low in people with COPD and drop even lower at night. Your brain responds by waking you up periodically to catch your breath -- preventing you from entering the critical, restorative phases of deep sleep that you need.
  • Some people with COPD suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, a condition characterized by repeated episodes of interrupted breathing while sleeping. These interruptions lead to loud snoring, frequent awakenings and severe daytime sleepiness.

Your best bet for nailing down and addressing the exact cause of your sleep problem is to find a doctor who is knowledgeable about COPD and sleep issues. Hartmut Schneider, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University Sleep Disorders Center, recommends that COPD patients use the continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) at night. CPAP devices deliver a steady stream of air through a nasal mask you wear overnight.

Dr. Schneider says,  “I strongly recommend using a CPAP device if you have COPD and obstructive sleep apnea. New technology has made CPAP devices less intrusive than they used to be, and they can make a big difference in your sleep quality. Because sleep deficiencies interfere with your ability to cope with your disease, it’s critical to address what specifically is keeping you from getting the rest you need.”

Posted in Lung Disorders on September 22, 2011


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Health Alerts registered users may post comments and share experiences here at their own discretion. We regret that questions on individual health concerns to the Johns Hopkins editors cannot be answered in this space.

The views expressed here do not constitute medical advice, and do not represent the position of Johns Hopkins Medicine or Remedy Health Media, LLC, which has no responsibility for any comments posted on this site.


As if the disease itself isn't bad enough, the health problems associated with having sleep disorders can also take a toll on the body. Being sleep deprived would make you fall sick more often because the immune system is down. Depression and stress are commonplace amongst people who have sleep disorders as well. I fully recommend a CPAP mask to help with sleeping to solve associated problems. Jenny - CPAP Mask

Posted by: AbbyJones | March 1, 2012 9:52 PM

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