Contrary to popular belief, both our breathing rate and depth actually increases during sleep compared to our resting breathing rate and depth. This increase in the overall volume of air we are inhaling results in a decrease in carbon dioxide levels and consequently we will experience a decrease in the actual oxygen reaching our cells.
When our cells are being deprived of oxygen, our body’s defence mechanism will kick into gear and asthmatic symptoms are the result.
We are much more susceptible to asthma symptoms during sleep because when we are unconscious and in a horizontal position such as during sleep, we are more likely to breathe more deeply and to breathe more often when compared to our normal resting breathing rate and depth. Additionally, it is very easy for us to hyper-ventilate or over-breathe during sleep, simply because when our muscles are at rest, we don’t really need to breathe very much at all, therefore any slight increase can be a problem.
During sleep many asthmatics will wake up with one or more of the following symptoms: mucus on the lungs, tightness in the chest, breathlessness, coughing and wheezing. These are all signs and symptoms of nocturnal asthma, which is simply your body’s defence.
Mouth breathing patterns may emerge which can trigger snoring and even the potentially fatal sleep apnea. It is usually at its worst when sleeping is in its deepest stage, in the early hours of the morning.
Sleep can be a very dangerous time not only for asthmatics, but everybody. Most heart attacks, cardiac arrests, strokes and deaths occur during the early hours of the morning during the deepest stages of sleep.
The good news is that nocturnal asthma can be prevented and totally avoided by following a few simple rules.
Firstly, ensure that the bedroom environment is clean and free of dust and dust mites, pet dander, fragrances and anything else that could trigger asthma. Make sure your bed sheets are also clean. Replace pillows and mattresses as regularly as feasible especially if you live in a humid environment. Consider using a de-humidifier if you do live in a climate with high humidity.
Implement nasal breathing at all times and especially at night and when sleeping.
Don’t eat too much before bed or drink too much alcohol and avoid sleeping on your back as all of these things can both increase your breathing rate and depth.