Have you noticed that asthma symptoms may seem worse at night, making it difficult to sleep?
People with severe asthma often find that symptoms including coughing and wheezing flare up at night, disrupting sleep and leaving you tired the following day. Clinicians often refer to this as “nocturnal asthma” which can occur for anyone who regularly deals with occupational, allergic, or exercise-induced asthma. In fact, the Journal of Asthma’s Underdiagnosis of Nocturnal Symptoms in Asthma in General Practice study involving 14,000 patients found that 60% of people with continuous asthma deal with nocturnal symptoms at some point in life.
We’ve created this extensive overview of nocturnal asthma to help you understand why asthma is worse at night, the symptoms that may occur, and how to help prevent nighttime asthma symptoms from disrupting your sleep.
Why is asthma worse at night?
Asthma symptoms may appear to flare up at night which could be due to a variety of factors. Allergens and dust mites are commonly found on bedding, which can make falling asleep difficult or even trigger an asthma attack in the middle of the night. Lying down to sleep can also lead to drainage accumulation from postnasal drip, which causes increased resistance in lung airways. Furthermore, your chest and lungs naturally experience more pressure when you’re lying down which can make breathing especially difficult for asthmatics. Finally, a lot of people like to turn down the temperature in their homes before heading off to bed, but the cool air may trigger asthma symptoms due to the loss of heat in airways.
Steps to help prevent nighttime asthma
Rather than spending every night tossing and turning or coughing and wheezing, take these steps to help you sleep better with asthma.
1. Clean your bedroom frequently
The dust that accumulates on every surface of your bedroom can travel through the air as particulate matter, so vacuum and wipe down surfaces often. Be sure to check areas that often get overlooked, such as ceiling fan blades which can easily spread dust throughout the air when turned on at night. Keeping up with a consistent cleaning routine will also help prevent the accumulation of other allergens that may trigger nighttime asthma.
2. Use dust-proof pillow and mattress covers
Beyond the standard pillowcases and sheets, you can also use dust-proof zippered covers that are woven tightly to prevent dust mites from getting in or out of your mattress and pillows. In fact, a study by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences found using these covers is one of the most effective ways to reduce the levels of dust mites in bedrooms.
3. Wash bed linens in hot water at least once a week
Wash all sheets in hot water that is at least 130 degrees to effectively kill dust mites, then put linens in a hot dryer to ensure no dust mites survive. If washing sheets for children, make sure to wash and dry any stuffed animals they regularly play or sleep with, as dust mites may accumulate.
4. Keep pets in a different room
While some people may sleep with their pets or let them roam about their bedroom in the day, doing so may also contribute to nighttime asthma symptoms as a result of the dander pets bring in. Even if your pet doesn’t sleep with you, they may bring in dander that sticks to bedding and carpentry. To prevent this, keep your bedroom closed off from pets as much as possible.
5. Avoid sleeping near strong odors
Strong odors such as perfumes and air fresheners (aerosol sprays, wall plug-ins, and even candles) may cause nasal congestion at night or act as an asthma trigger. In fact, some asthma sufferers find that strong perfume is the main reason behind their asthma symptoms. Avoid using these in the bedroom, and if you sleep in the same bed as a partner talk with them about forgoing the use of perfume or taking a shower before bed to help prevent nighttime asthma symptoms from flaring up.
6. Keep your head elevated at night
As noted earlier, lying flat can lead to postnasal drip which is especially problematic when you have a cold or sinus infection. To help prevent drainage from accumulating and restricting airways, keep your head elevated by using pillows. In fact, in one study, a man with a 43-year history of asthma found that simply adjusting his sleeping position reduced the need to take asthma medication.
7. Invest in an air purifier
As a final measure to help prevent nighttime asthma, invest in an air purifier to remove irritating airborne particles that can trigger symptoms and attacks. We recommend an air purifier such as the Alen BreatheSmart FIT50, which operates at a whisper-quiet sound level, emits soothing pink noise, and features a lights-off mode for sleeping. This air purifier removes 99.7% of harmful particles, including common asthma triggers, to clean the air in your bedroom or another area up to 900 square feet.