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

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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • ladydawny
    3 months ago

    God bless you. My son was a preemie he has various issues but it is I who has the breathing issues. Your story was so upsetting. I am hoping you are having a good quality of life. I am going to ask about the Cpap as I am told I am a retainer and because of that they won’t give me oxygen? I really don’t understand why that wouldn’t help me. I have to be on a lot of steroid inhaler and also have to be on steroid for my Addison’s disease. I have been told to drop my inhalers a little as i was on so much but I still don’t fully understand the condition despite researching it on the internet.
    Once again God bless and thanks for letting me in on that headache thing which I have been getting a lot of lately.
    Be well.


  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 months ago

    Hi Dawn, and thanks for your post responding to Barbara’s article.
    Please remember that COPD affects all patients differently. For some patients who retain carbon dioxide, oxygen may actually have a detrimental impact on one’s breathing. You may want to discuss the fact that you are a retainer (of carbon dioxide) and why supplemental oxygen may not be appropriate for you with the doctor. He/she would be the best medical professional to explain this to you further. Wishing you well, Leon (site moderator)

  • Janet Plank moderator
    3 months ago

    Your story led me along your journey with you. It was so alive. Thank you for sharing.
    Janet (site moderator)

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