Sleep Problems 'Common With Asthma'

Peter Russell

December 15, 2016

A high proportion of people with asthma also have problems sleeping, a study has revealed.

Researchers in the US found that a combination of asthma and insomnia is also associated with poorer asthma control, depression, anxiety and other issues that affect health and quality of life.

Inflamed Airways

There are 5.4 million people in the UK with asthma, which is characterised by difficulty breathing due to swollen or inflamed airways.

The latest study by the University of Pittsburgh is based on data from 714 people enrolled in a research programme for severe asthma.

The researchers report that troublesome insomnia, classified as being 'clinically significant', was experienced in 37% of people with asthma. They say this is consistent with the estimated 22% to 47% of asthma patients who say they have problems getting to sleep and staying asleep.

Main Findings

They also found that:

  • People with insomnia as well as asthma had a higher body mass index (BMI), worse lung function and came from poorer households than those without insomnia

  • Despite reporting no night-time asthma symptoms that disturbed their sleep, almost 25% of participants had 'clinically significant' insomnia

  • Compared with those without insomnia, participants with insomnia said they had sought medical advice for asthma-related problems more frequently in the past year

  • Participants with insomnia had worse asthma control and asthma-specific quality of life and higher levels of depression and anxiety symptoms.

Those with insomnia had a 2.4-fold higher risk of having uncontrolled asthma symptoms and a 1.5-fold increased risk of seeking medical help for asthma-related problems in the previous 12 months than those who did not have insomnia.

The authors of the study, published in the journal Chest, say consideration should be given to checking asthma patients for signs of trouble sleeping.

Lead author Faith Luyster says in a statement: "Our results show that poor sleep may not be solely due to night-time awakenings due to asthma symptoms but may represent comorbid insomnia, and that comorbid insomnia can significantly impact asthma outcomes including quality of life and healthcare utilisation." Comorbidity is where two conditions exist together in the same person.

Future Research

The researchers call for further studies to better understand the relationship between asthma control and insomnia.

In an emailed comment, Dr Barbara Phillips, the former president of the American College of Chest Physicians, says: "This article demonstrates that insomnia is associated with poorer asthma control, but not that insomnia causes any problems with asthma.

"Indeed, the converse is much more likely to be true. In other words, asthma symptoms likely worsen or cause insomnia, not vice versa."


Association Between Insomnia and Asthma Burden in the Severe Asthma Research Program (SARP) III, F Luyster et al, Chest

American College of Chest Physicians

Dr Barbara Phillips, MSPH, FCCP, Immediate Past-President of the American College of Chest Physicians