Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Sleep

Lung disorders such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and chronic asthma are included in the term chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The symptoms include breathing difficulty, chronic cough, fatigue, and tightening of the chest. COPD can cause reduced blood oxygen saturation levels which lead to fatigue and adverse health conditions.

Sleep problems are common due to the symptoms and medications used to treat COPD. Breathing pattern changes that occur during normal sleep which may not affect healthy people can cause more severe consequences in COPD patients. These breathing patterns may worsen and complicate the condition as they naturally reduce blood oxygen levels.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is most common for people over the age of 40 and develops slowly. It is a progressive disease that does not go away and may worsen over time depending on when treatment starts. Approximately 12 million Americans have COPD, according to the COPD International, and it is estimated that another 12 million are undiagnosed. Smoking is the main cause, but it can also be the result of exposure to second hand smoke or other environmental pollutants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.

COPD and Sleep Disorders

Sleep can be profoundly impacted by COPD as symptoms such as coughing, chest pain, and frequent nighttime urination impact sleep. Medications used to treat the condition may lead to insomnia or daytime fatigue.

Patients who have both COPD and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) have what is called ‘overlap syndrome’. Research suggests that approximately 10 to 15 percent of COPD patients have overlap syndrome, which is associate with reduced blood oxygen saturation levels during sleep and may cause excessive daytime sleepiness and other complications. Overlap syndrome may be treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment, which research suggests may improve lung function and erectile dysfunction in men with the condition.

COPD and Health

Heart disease is associated with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. COPD can cause “cor pumonale,” or an enlargement of the right ventricle, which causes failure of the right side of the heart. In overlap syndrome, the prevalence of cor pumonale is as high as 80 percent. One analysis found that less than one-third of COPD patients with cor pumonale survive longer than five years.
COPD is a disease which can be life-threatening and requires major medical intervention as it can cause early death. However, COPD is usually diagnosed by the time it is has already progressed to a severe case and there is little chance of stopping or reversing its course.

Symptoms of COPD

One of the earliest signs of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is morning cough, followed by noisy breathing, breathlessness, and chest pain. Sometimes people with COPD develop a barrel-shaped chest if the lungs enlarge. Other symptoms include:

  • Chronic cough
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Wheezing, whistling, or hissing sounds
  • Chest pain or tightening
  • Skin discoloration
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Insomnia
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent nighttime urination
  • Daytime sleepiness

Treatment for COPD

Although there is no cure for COPD, there are treatments for the symptoms. Treatment may include drug therapy, behavioral remedies, and sometimes surgery. It can be possible to alleviate symptoms by quitting smoking and avoiding airborne pollutants. Lung transplant surgery may be recommended or surgery to reduce lung volume may be performed. However, much like major surgery, these procedures carry serious risks. Supplemental oxygen is often prescribed as it has been proven to increase the quality of a patient’s life.

Healthy sleep is crucial for COPD patients. Insomnia symptoms can be addressed with proper diagnosis and treatment by a sleep specialist. Sleep quality is important, particularly for patients with overlap syndrome, which can seriously undermine health and well-being. CPAP has been shown to effectively treat overlap syndrome by keeping the airways open at night.

To learn more about Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and how it can affect sleep, please call The Los Angeles Sleep Study Institute at 1-855-690-0563.