Study Uncovers Possible Link Between Asthma and Insomnia

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It probably comes as no surprise to hear that asthma has been linked to insomnia. But a new study says the problem is so severe it extends beyond an obvious inability to sleep during times of trouble breathing.

“Our results show that poor sleep may not be solely due to nighttime awakenings due to asthma symptoms but may represent comorbid insomnia,” lead author Faith Luyster said in a news release issued by the journal Chest, which published her work. “Comorbid insomnia can significantly impact asthma outcomes including quality of life and healthcare utilization.”

Courtesy: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Courtesy: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Asthma is a chronic illness where airways in the lungs become inflamed and constrict the flow of air. Asthma symptoms can be mild or severe. While the concept behind the disease seems simple enough, there is no cure for it.

The coughing often occurs at night or early in the morning.

“Asthma affects people of all ages, but it most often starts during childhood,” per the National Institutes of Health. “In the United States, more than 25 million people are known to have asthma.”

The Chest study showed that 37 percent of people with asthma also have “clinically significant” insomnia. They tend to be overweight, have more severe symptoms of asthma and lower incomes than asthma sufferers without insomnia.

The study examined 714 adults with asthma. Participants used questionnaires to report their symptoms of asthma, insomnia, anxiety and depression.

About a quarter of those in the study reported “clinically significant” insomnia despite not reporting sleep-disrupting asthma symptoms.

“Presence of insomnia was associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety symptoms and poorer quality of life,” the authors reported. “Those with insomnia had a 2.4-fold increased risk for having not well-controlled asthma and a 1.5-fold increased risk for asthma-related health care utilization in the past year compared with those without insomnia.”

“The research shows that there is a significant impact of insomnia on asthma disease burden and well-being and states that evaluation and treatment of insomnia should be considered among patients with asthma,” the Chest news release reported. “While it was determined that insomnia is highly prevalent in those with asthma and is associated with adverse outcomes, further studies are needed to better understand the relationship between insomnia and asthma control. Prospective and interventional studies, such as implementing cognitive-behavioral treatment for insomnia, are recommended moving forward.”

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or “talk therapy” that often includes patients keeping track of their progress in a workbook, increasingly has been shown effective in treatment insomnia and depression, particularly as co-occurring disorders.

While it seems remarkably simple, it has been proven effective time and again. It helps people learn new ways of coping with their inability to sleep by changing how they look at the problem.

In an interview with Healthline News, Dr. Matthew Rudorfer of the National Institute of Mental Health explained why the U.S. government is funding such research.

“What is new and exciting about these recent studies is the idea that for some people it’s not enough to say ‘Let’s treat your depression and your sleep will get better,’” Rudorfer said. “The advent of the new antidepressants kind of highlighted the fact that sleep doesn’t always come along for the ride.”

A professional journalist nearly 30 years, David Heitz started his career at the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa before moving to Los Angeles. He led the Glendale News-Press to best small daily newspaper in the state (CNPA) as managing editor and also worked as executive news editor of the Press-Telegram. He worked briefly as deputy news editor of the Detroit News before returning to the Quad-Cities, where he has worked as a freelance medical writer since 2012 for several national websites. He recently purchased his childhood home and says he truly is “living the dream.”