I Can’t Sleep Because of COPD - The Effects of COPD at Night

I have never been a great sleeper. Being born a preemie, I needed to be woken every 2 to 3 hours to eat. Gaining weight was their major goal - a feat that I would have no problem with as I grew older - but bad habits were developing as I was getting used to only sleeping for shorts amounts at a time.

Childhood sleep issues

As a child, I had many bouts of pneumonia and bronchial problems. I spent a good deal of my first 5 years hospitalized, under an oxygen tent. Coughing and fever was always the issue. When I was home, I would have severe bouts of coughing that started the minute I lay flat to go to sleep and lasted all night. My parents tried all kinds of cough medicine from over the counter to prescription to no avail. Sleeping in an upright position seemed to be the only remedy that calmed my cough.

In those days, and with our ignorance of lung issues, my parents could only pile pillows up and let me rest against them until heavenly sleep finally came. It was a short-lived solution as I would eventually fall off the pillows and lying flat I would begin my earth-shattering cough again. They finally pinned my shirt to the pillows to try to keep me in an upright position. It was a better solution but not the ultimate solution.

I would cough until the muscles in my stomach ached and my ribs felt broken, but sleep eluded me once I was tucked in for the night. Rising in the morning seemed a daunting task as I was up all night coughing and was far from rested. I can remember being so tired that every time I blinked I thought I could fall asleep. Sleep was always a nightmare for me.

Exhaustion as an adult

As my teen years turned into adulthood, sleeping was still an issue but exhaustion set in as my kids multiplied. Once in bed, I would first begin to cough and once I found the sweet spot and my cough settled down, I would need to clear my throat. I often woke several times during the night gasping for breath and with the terrifying feeling that I was drowning.

The continual cycle of not getting enough sleep and waking during the night became a huge issue as my COPD progressed. As my lungs became more compromised, I was less and less able to rid my body of carbon dioxide and it began to build up, unknowingly through my system. I would often wake with headaches and have regular afternoon headaches, especially in the fall time when the ceilings were low. Thinking these were stress headaches I took Tylenol but never thought of mentioning this to my doctor.

I eventually needed to take Tylenol every afternoon and realized I was becoming slightly addicted to them. Now I had two problems. I was suffering from daily headaches and I needed to have Tylenol on a regular basis even though it was not stopping the headaches.

A COPD diagnosis helped with my sleep issues

It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with COPD and doctors discovered that I was a retainer that I realized how dangerous these headaches were. Being prescribed a BiPap to sleep with at night helped the problem of sleeping immensely. I was told by doctors to never sleep or even lay down for an afternoon nap without it. I took that to heart and never have.

Using my BiPap along with a wedge pillow and supplemental oxygen had made a big difference to my sleeping habits and although I am still not a great sleeper, I sleep better and safer now than I ever did.

Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on January 7th, 2024, Barbara Moore passed away. Barbara’s advocacy efforts and writing continue to reach many. She will be deeply missed.

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