Portrait Of Young Man Inhaling Through Inhaler Mask

There are countless studies on the importance of sleep for all individuals of any age and state of health. In healthy people, sleep is a state of restoration. Poor sleep can lead to numerous problems such as forgetfulness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, fatigue and even depression.

A chronic lung disease such as pulmonary fibrosis (PF) can make sleeping difficult, due to shortness of breath, coughing and anxiety. Patients often experience gastroesophageal reflux, which also contributes to sleep problems.

Sleep is even more important for individuals living with a chronic illness. Effects of disease that damage our bodies are present both while we’re awake and while we sleep, but doctors often overlook the value of sleep and the adverse effects caused by lack of sleep. A good night’s sleep allows the body to rejuvenate. Plus, there are other benefits of sleep such as to our mental and emotional state.

Here’s why sleep is so crucial for patients with pulmonary fibrosis:

Sleep Disorders and PF

People who have pulmonary fibrosis often suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which is temporary pauses in breathing while sleeping that occur when airflow is blocked when the throat muscles relax. If it’s left untreated, it raises a patient’s risk for high blood pressure and heart attacks.

Studies have shown that poor sleep can also interrupt the effectiveness of the drugs used to treat PF, which in turn hastens the degenerative effects of the disease.

Other Effects of Sleep on PF

Because sleep helps the body reenergize, a person living with pulmonary fibrosis will often be able to do more on a decent night’s sleep. Physical functions such as digestion, blood circulation, the ability to fight off viruses and to absorb oxygen, all require energy and work more efficiently on sufficient sleep.

Poor sleep affects our ability to regulate our emotions, which are already impacted while living with a chronic illness. Fatigue from a bad night’s sleep can make living with PF even more overwhelming, particularly when faced with things like constant medical appointments and treatments, that come hand-in-hand with chronic illness.

The mental impact of poor sleep can affect our ability to concentrate. It packs an even bigger punch in patients with pulmonary fibrosis, as medication can also impair the ability to focus.

Poor sleep can wreak havoc with the social lives of individuals with pulmonary fibrosis, which plays a key role in how well they can cope with their disease. Oftentimes, attending a social function saps the energy of people with PF, and the will to socialize becomes even lower after a poor night’s sleep. Thus, isolation can occur in sufferers of pulmonary fibrosis, which can hasten the rate of physical decline.

pulmonary fibrosis

How Patients with Pulmonary Fibrosis Can Improve Sleep

While many of the effects of pulmonary fibrosis can’t be controlled, numerous lifestyle habits play a role in how much sleep you get. It’s important to take a close look at any of these habits that might be affecting your sleep.

Managing the symptoms of pulmonary fibrosis such as coughing is essential. Many patients take cough medication a few hours before bedtime to relieve symptoms and sleep better. Some people have found that enzyme therapy improves their coughing-related symptoms.

One symptom of pulmonary fibrosis is decreased oxygen levels, so individuals with PF should have their doctor conduct an overnight sleep test to determine oxygen levels. Using oxygen at night should result in a better night’s sleep and general well-being the next day.

Using a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine can help to alleviate the symptoms of sleep apnea for a more restful night’s sleep and improve your quality of life.   

Take a close look at your sleep environment. Shortness of breath usually increases when we’re lying flat, so adjusting the sleep position by elevating the head with pillows can improve the ability to take deep breaths. Consider sleeping on your side with pillows both between the knees and under the head. Another option is lying on the back with head elevated and pillows under the knees. Experiment with what works best.

Most people with PF also prefer sleeping in a cool, quiet and dark bedroom.

Many patients with PF find that a fan can stimulate airflow in the room and help decrease shortness of breath.

woman sleeping

Lifestyle Changes for Better Quality Sleep

We all have habits that affect our sleep, and it’s even more crucial for individuals with pulmonary fibrosis to follow good sleep habits.

Limit the amount of caffeine and sugar that’s consumed in the last few hours before bed. Both lead to an increased heart rate and affect our ability to fall asleep. Avoid eating a large meal in the hours before bedtime.

When possible, perform some form of exercise, such as walking during the day or after dinner. Regular exercise has been shown to regulate our sleep. It also decreases anxiety, which may help people with pulmonary fibrosis fall asleep.

Lack of a schedule interferes with sleep, so it’s important to go to bed and rise in the morning at the same time each day to set an internal rhythm.

Allow for time to unwind before bed by reading, having a bath, meditating or drinking decaffeinated tea.

Limit the time you’re on your smartphone or laptop in the hour before going to bed. Technology tricks the brain into thinking it’s daytime and can also cause stress and anxiety.

Learn breathing exercises, such as pursed lip breathing, that can help improve shortness of breath.  

Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of any information received from us.

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