Alaska Sleep Education Center

How Sleep Quality Impacts Your Lung Health

Posted by Jennifer Hines

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on Jul 6, 2020 11:59:47 AM

Young woman on a ventilator.

Sleep is considered a basic human biological function, which is crucial to your overall health, including the proper functioning of the respiratory system. The primary respiratory organ is the lungs. Since it alters gas exchange and ventilation, our breathing pattern is believed to be affected by sleep disorders.

In this article, you'll learn how sleep quality can impact your lung health. This way, you'll be guided on the next steps you have to do when you notice sleep and respiratory problems. 


Poor Sleep Decrease Lung Function

According to a study, sleep and lung function have a direct relationship. While respiratory diseases may affect sleep quality, lack of sleep may also cause lung problems.

Here are the findings of the study:

  • Sleep has a permissive effect on mucous retention, bronchial reactivity, and respiratory failure. 
  • During REM sleep, the rib cage is inhibited.
  • Evaluation of sleep study in patients with respiratory problems by a pulmonologist is a must. To identify any underlying respiratory insufficiency, patients with non-respiratory medical conditions should also undergo a sleep study, most especially those who are at risk of developing cardiovascular problems.


Lack of Sleep Weakens ImmunityLung health and sleep apnea are related.

Poor sleep quality or sleep deprivation can affect lung health. Since poor sleep can weaken the immune system, it also increases one’s vulnerability to respiratory problems. 

For patients with chronic lung disease, sleep deficiency could worsen the signs and symptoms. Also, short sleep can increase the risk of stroke, kidney disease, diabetes, and depression.

Sleep Problems Cause Breathing Changes

Due to reduced brain activity, breathing patterns may change, becoming less regular and shallow, during sleep. The sleep and wake cycle intensifies breathing changes from non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep to rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. 

During REM sleep, breathing becomes less frequent. Difficulty breathing at night can reduce lung activity, which makes inhaling and exhaling even more difficult. Rapid eye movements (REM) sleep refers to a period of sleep characterized by, as its name suggests, rapid eye movement. It represents the dream state with reduced muscle activity. During this stage of sleep, cardiac and respiratory functions become unstable. Breathing obstruction can result in sudden arousal to get more oxygen. Smoking, lung diseases, and anything that obstructs breathing contributes to sleep problems.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Ceases Breathing

Obstructive sleep apnea affects about 20 million adult Americans, which greatly affects overweight or obese individuals and adult men aged 40 years old and above. It ceases breathing during sleep, wherein breathing stops periodically for up to ten seconds. In severe cases, cessation of breathing may happen hundreds of times in one night.

Obstructive sleep apnea can cause hypertension, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. There's a greater risk of heart attack, coronary artery disease, stroke, and heart failure with more severe obstructive sleep apnea.

Snoring is a common sign seen in people suffering from obstructive sleep apnea, but not all people who snore have sleep apnea. It's likely a sign of obstructive sleep apnea when it's followed by breathing pauses and gasping or choking sounds. Also, sleep apnea can cause fatigue or daytime sleepiness.

The most common manifestations of sleep apnea include the following:

  • Loud or frequent snoring
  • Gasping or choking sounds 
  • Silent breathing pauses
  • Un-refreshing sleep
  • Morning headaches
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Nocturia (increased nighttime urination)
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Decreased sexual desire


Sleep Deprivation Worsens COPD

According to the National Sleep Foundation chair, Joseph M. Ojile, MD., people who have a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) need to rest their respiratory muscles to function well the next day. That's why these patients must get a good night’s sleep. However, the problem is that it’s hard to get sleep when you’re in pain, coughing, and difficulty breathing.

If you have COPD, check out these ways to help improve your sleep:

  • Adjust Sleep Position: Position your head slightly higher than the rest of your body to help prevent gastroesophageal reflux disease or acid reflux, which leads to frequent arousal at night. 
  • Exercise and Get Active: Physical activity can help improve COPD. By moving more during the day, expect better sleep at night. 
  • Oxygen Therapy: For you to avoid breathing problems at night, promoting better sleep, your pulmonologist may prescribe oxygen therapy.

Poor Sleep Increases Vulnerability to Coronavirus Infection

Proper sleep is crucial during the coronavirus outbreak. As previously mentioned, lack of sleep may weaken immunity, and if this happens, your body is more vulnerable in contracting coronavirus and suffer from its life-threatening complications, like severe pneumonia. 

In addition to getting enough sleep, it's also important to eat nutritious foods to supply your organs, including your lungs, the right amount of vitamins and minerals it needs to function properly.


Tips to Improve Sleep Quality and Promote Lung Health

Put Away Electronics

Reduce light emitted from electronics, such as tablets, laptops, and smartphones by putting them away during sleep time because these can disturb and keep you awake.

Establish a Sleep Routine

You can sync your body's sleep and wake cycle response or circadian rhythm by waking up and going to bed or sleeping at the same time everyday.

Avoid Daytime Napping

As much as possible, you should avoid napping during the day to easily get sleep at night. If you can't help it, keep your nap time short or no longer than 20 minutes.

Replace Your Mattress 

Do you still remember the time you bought your mattress? If not, then it's time to replace it because it might be the culprit why you're having sleep problems. 

Sagging and worn-out mattress can be a possible cause of back pain and uncomfortable sleep.

Music Therapy

Listening to soothing music calms the body and mind, especially for patients with sleep problems. For the best results, try downloading and playing your favorite classical or mellow music before bedtime and upon waking up early in the morning. Doing so can help reduce stress and anxiety, reducing tension and pain perception, too. 

You can also perform breathing exercises and meditation with music therapy.


Sleep quality can affect breathing patterns and overall lung function. Significant changes in breathing patterns can result from obstructive sleep apnea, COPD, and other respiratory problems. On the other hand, if you lack sleep, you'll feel sleepy the next day, reducing your physical activity or become immobile, which can affect lung health.

During this trying time in the World, you can order your CPAP supplies over the phone by calling any of Alaska Sleep Clinic's four labs or online through this website and we will mail your supplies directly to your home.  Your health and safety remain our top priority.


CPAP Therapy ebook


Topics: obstructive sleep apnea, lung, CPAP therapy, coronavirus, CPOD

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