Check-In: How Is Your Sleep Hygiene?

Sleep is a big part of everyone’s life. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that adults sleep for at least 7 hours per night, so you will likely spend about one-third of your life snoozing. Unfortunately, for many, getting enough sleep is easier said than done. This is especially true for people with COPD. Some studies have suggested that around half of all people with COPD also have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). It seems the worse one’s case of COPD, the more likely they are to have OSA. Of course, OSA is not the only problem that can keep you up at night. Stress, anxiety, and even certain medicines can make it hard to fall asleep. Once you are asleep, aches, pains, or bathroom breaks can wake your right back up again. With March being Sleep Awareness Month, let’s take a look at some things that may help!

First off, it is important to have good sleep hygiene. Having good sleep hygiene means setting up habits that help you sleep in an environment that supports those habits. For many people, this means making sure your sleeping area is dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. Not everyone agrees on what makes a perfect sleep setting, so you may need to make some adjustments based on your bed partner’s preferences, too. For example, I am one of those people who like it pitch black, and my wife likes to have a little light around. It seemed no matter what kind of nightlight we tried, it would always shine right into my eyes if I woke up, preventing me from falling back asleep. I finally broke down and tried a cheap sleep mask and it made a world of difference! She gets her comfort light, I get my darkness, and we both sleep well.

Second, pre-bedtime habits can also make a big difference. Most people know to avoid caffeinated drinks like coffee after a certain time of day. It is also important to avoid things like large meals and alcohol right before bed. Again, everyone is going to be a little different, but you will usually want to allow between two and three hours between your last meal or drink and your bedtime. This can also reduce the number of times you have to get up for a bathroom break. Be sure to stay hydrated according to your health care professional’s advice! Also consider limiting your screen time right before bed. It can certainly be tempting to scroll through your feed one last time, but the light from these screens can affect your brain chemistry and prevent the release of melatonin, a hormone that helps you fall asleep.

Finally, make sure that your overall physical and mental health status is under control. Symptoms from heart and lung problems (including COPD) can prevent you from getting restful sleep. Digestive problems like acid reflux can not only do the same thing but also make your breathing problems worse. Stress, anxiety, and depression have caused many a sleepless night in my house, for sure. Sometimes the answer may be as simple as adding an extra pillow to reduce reflux or adding a few minutes of meditation in the evening. Other times, you may need to work with your care team to adjust your medications or get additional tests like a sleep study to figure out the underlying cause.

There are certainly many other tips and tricks to getting a good night’s sleep, from staying as active as possible during the day to setting a consistent wake-up time. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine has some tips, as does the Mayo Clinic. What are some of your best suggestions? Let us know in the comments below!

By Mike Hess, RRT (COPDF Senior Director of Public Outreach and Education)