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April 2019

Good Night, Sleep Tight—And Symptom-Free

If there’s anything worse than asthma during the day, it’s asthma during the night. Unfortunately, it is common. From about 1 in 2 to 3 in 4 people with asthma report nocturnal symptoms, such as coughing or wheezing. Often the symptoms are bad enough to wake them up.

Man sitting up in bed, holding his head

If you want to sleep like a dream, it’s important to control nighttime symptoms. The tips below can help.

P.M. asthma

Nocturnal asthma is the formal term for symptoms that get worse while you sleep. Even in people without asthma, the lungs’ ability to move air dips slightly in the wee hours of the morning. But for some people with asthma, this dip is large.

Certain things may add to the problem. Some people have GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) when lying down. In GERD, the stomach’s contents rise up into the esophagus, causing irritation. GERD may make asthma symptoms worse. An allergic reaction caused by dust mites could also set off asthma symptoms. Dust mites often thrive in bedding.

Resting easy

Untreated nocturnal asthma doesn’t just make you miserable at night. Lack of sleep may also harm your ability to stay alert the next day.

That’s why it’s important to tell your healthcare provider if asthma wakes you up more than 1 to 2 nights a month. Frequent nighttime symptoms are a sign of poor asthma control. Your provider might need to adjust your treatment.

Beyond that, these steps can give your bedtime story a happy ending:

  • Track your peak flow. Start recording your peak flow numbers at night and in the morning before you take your asthma medicine. This may reveal patterns that help you and your healthcare provider develop the best plan for your nocturnal asthma.

  • Seek treatment for GERD, if you think it might be an issue. Don’t eat within 2 to 3 hours of bedtime and stay away from certain foods. Common culprits include greasy or spicy foods, coffee, chocolate, tomatoes and tomato products, peppermint, and alcohol. Other strategies to control GERD include losing weight if you’re overweight or obese, keeping your head slightly raised during sleep, and taking medicines advised by your provider.

  • Kick dust mites out of bed. Encase your mattress, box spring, and pillows in special allergen-proof covers. Wash bedding weekly in hot water and dry it in a hot dryer.



Online Medical Reviewer: Godsey, Cynthia, MSN, APRN, MSHE, FNP-BC
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2019
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