Poor Sleep Increases Risk Of COPD Flare-ups: Study

June 14, 2022

Poor sleep can significantly increase the risk of life-threatening flare-ups in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, according to a new study supported by the National Institutes of Health. The study also revealed that poor sleep may induce more life-threatening flare-ups than even a person with a history of smoking.

COPD is a progressive, incurable lung condition that makes breathing difficult. It affects more than 16 million adults in the United States and is a leading cause of death. COPD flare-ups, also known as exacerbations, can last for days and even weeks and are triggered by a variety of factors ranging from pollutants to cold and flu viruses.

Poor sleep can weaken the immune system of a healthy person and make them more susceptible to colds and flu as well as this vulnerability can increase in people with COPD, the study showed.

The risk of life-threatening flare-ups, sudden bouts of worsening breathing, was 25 to 95 percent higher in people who experienced poor sleep than in people who had good quality sleep.

The study found that in general, poor sleep quality was strongly associated with a higher total of COPD flare-ups. Those with the worst sleep had a nearly 95 percent increased risk of having a COPD exacerbation within the next year, while those at the threshold or at the base level of poor sleep had a 25 percent increased chance of having a COPD flare-up within the next year.

For the study, the researchers followed 1,647 people with confirmed COPD who were enrolled in the Subpopulations and Intermediate Outcome Measures in COPD Study, All the participants in this specific study were current or former tobacco smokers with a confirmed diagnosis of COPD, and they underwent at least one initial sleep evaluation upon enrollment.

The researchers recorded COPD flare-ups over a three-year follow-up period and compared these measurements against the sleep quality of the participants. The scores ranged from worse sleep quality to best sleep. The researchers reported their results after looking at how a person’s risk for flare-ups changed after one year.

While the findings apply to all races and ethnicities, the study has particular relevancy for Black Americans as past studies show that this group tends to have poorer sleep quality than other races and ethnicities.

The observational study, one of the largest to look at the links between sleep quality and COPD flare-ups, was largely funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the NIH.

However, it is not known whether improving sleep quality will yield direct improvements in COPD outcomes.

This study adds to a growing knowledge base demonstrating the harmful effects of poor sleep on health in general. It can be particularly damaging in people with devastating preexisting conditions, such as COPD.

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