Medically reviewed by
Dacelin St Martin, MD
Triple board-certified in Sleep Medicine,
Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics.
Adequate sleep is crucial to every aspect of physical health, including respiratory health. Respiratory troubles like asthma and obstructive sleep apnea are known to cause sleep troubles for many. Until recently, it wasn’t clear if suboptimal sleep could lead to respiratory problems.
However, new research has found that poor sleep may double the chance of being diagnosed with asthma by increasing one’s genetic risk.
What’s the Study?
Experts have linked poor sleep to an increased chance of developing asthma in an outstanding UK Bio-bank research published in the open-access journal BMJ Open Respiratory Research.
According to the researchers, people living with asthma frequently experience sleep disturbances like insomnia. However, whether sleep quality influences the risk of developing asthma was unclear.
To gain insight, researchers examined the data of a cohort of more than 450,000 individuals from 2006 to 2010 in the UK Biobank — a sizable biomedical database and study resource that keeps track of residents over time. The ages of the participants ranged from 38 to 73 years old, according to the report.
The study’s participants were followed up for 10 years. Also, the participants’ genetic profile was systematically mapped, and a genetic asthma risk score was assigned to each participant. This risk score was calculated from a number of genetic variations linked with asthma in their genome.
At the end of the 10-year monitoring period, nearly 18000 participants had developed asthma. The study’s findings revealed that those with a genetic propensity and poor sleep hygiene had a two-fold chance of developing asthma compared to individuals in a low-risk category.
According to experts, having a genetic tendency for asthma increases a person’s chance of developing the condition by 25 to 30 percent. This study indicates that poor sleep raises these chances much more.
On the other hand, the research reveals that healthy sleep habits are related to decreased incidence of asthma regardless of genetic predisposition.
The authors remarked that the study is great news for individuals at risk of asthma. “It shows that individuals with high-risk genes can reduce their risk of developing asthma by embracing healthy sleeping habits,” they said.
Concerning the study’s implications, Dr. Juanita Mora, a renowned immunologist and national spokesperson for the American Lung Association, suggested that health experts could lower the risk of asthma for their patients by keeping an eye on and promptly treating sleep problems.
“According to the research, 19 percent of asthma cases could be avoided if sleep habits were improved,” Mora said. Furthermore, Dr. Mora suggested that doctors and nurses talk to their asthma patients more about how they sleep to determine if their habits worsen their symptoms.
Understanding the Relationship between Sleep and Asthma
Deciphering the association between sleep loss and asthma is essential to finding a long-standing solution to both problems. One crucial associating factor between both entities is inflammation. Asthma is a long-term inflammatory condition of the lower airway.
Studies have shown that poor sleep fosters inflammation in the body. This finding implies that losing sleep could worsen lung inflammation responsible for asthma, leading to increased chances of an attack, worsening symptoms, and impairment of overall lung function.[3,4]
Furthermore, Sleep disorders are linked to the persistent activation of the stress response, which has been shown to have a vital role in the development of asthma.
Another connecting factor relates to the nocturnal nature of asthma symptoms. Typically, asthma symptoms exacerbate at night, impeding sleep initiation and maintenance and causing sleep loss. In most cases, nighttime asthma is an indication of severe asthma or poorly treated asthma.
How to Get Better Sleep and Reduce Asthma Attacks at Night
Asthma can make getting a good night’s rest challenging, so developing healthy sleep practices is beneficial. Focusing on better sleep hygiene is a crucial initial step.
People with asthma can reduce unnecessary daytime fatigue and focus on managing their asthma symptoms by establishing a regular sleep schedule and healthy daytime habits. Here are more tips on how to improve your sleep:
- Reduce Allergens in Your Bedroom: Asthma attacks may be triggered by dust mites, danders, and insect residue. Reducing or removing contact with these aggravators is crucial. Be sure to vacuum and dust once a week and wash sheets weekly. You may also find relief by using allergen-proof pillows and mattress coverings. In addition, keeping pets out of the bedroom may be beneficial.
- Use Scented Products with Caution: Some people with asthma are sensitive to the strong fragrances in household cleaning supplies, candles, and even cosmetic products. If you are asthmatic, consider making your bedroom fragrance-free.
- Shut Your Bedroom Windows: Sudden shifts in weather, temperature, and air quality can trigger attacks, so it’s essential to keep pollen, dust, and other allergens out of the bedroom by keeping the windows shut.
- Engage in Relaxing Activities Before Bedtime: Stress often triggers asthma. Developing a bedtime routine with relaxing activities such as gentle music or reading a book may help you fall asleep quicker and reduce stress-related asthma episodes.
- Xiang, B., Hu, M., Yu, H., Zhang, Y., Wang, Q., & Xue, F. (2023). Highlighting the importance of healthy sleep patterns in the risk of adult asthma under the combined effects of genetic susceptibility: a large-scale prospective cohort study of 455 405 participants. BMJ Open Respiratory Research, 10(1), e001535. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjresp-2022-001535
- Hashmi, M. F., Tariq, M., & Cataletto, M. E. (2023). Asthma. StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430901/
- Irwin, M. R., Wang, M., Campomayor, C. O., Collado-Hidalgo, A., & Cole, S. (2006). Sleep deprivation and activation of morning levels of cellular and genomic markers of inflammation. Archives of Internal Medicine, 166(16), 1756–1762. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.166.16.1756
- Luyster, F. S., Shi, X., Baniak, L. M., Morris, J. L., & Chasens, E. R. (2020). Associations of sleep duration with patient-reported outcomes and health care use in US adults with asthma. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: Official Publication of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, 125(3), 319–324. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anai.2020.04.035
- Study of the biological clock may explain why asthma worsens at night. (n.d.). NHLBI, NIH. Retrieved May 5, 2023, from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/news/2021/study-biological-clock-may-explain-why-asthma-worsens-night