Combining these two breathing disorders can wreak havoc on sleep.
On its own, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) can be challenging enough. This lung disease inhibits air sacs from absorbing oxygen properly, causing a sense of breathlessness. People with COPD often feel out of breath doing simple things, like walking out to the mailbox or going up a few stairs.
However, many people with COPD deal with an additional hurdle to their breathing: obstructive sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that affects over 18 million people in the United States. (Learn more about common sleep disorders here.)
“Often times, sleep apnea and COPD can coexist together,” says Margarita Oks, MD, pulmonologist at Lenox Hill Hospital and Northwell Health. “There is an overlap syndrome that we’re now actually beginning to recognize and understand that there could be some groups that have a higher prevalence of both disorders occurring together.”
People with sleep apnea actually stop breathing periodically through the night. The pauses can last as long as 10 seconds, and then breathing often resumes with a gasp or snort. The halted breathing can occur due to collapsed muscles in the back of the throat (obstructive sleep apnea) or the brain not properly controlling breathing while sleeping (central sleep apnea).
When you’re not getting the necessary oxygen while sleeping, your brain automatically wakes you up. As a result, people with sleep apnea often experience a reduced quality of sleep, resulting in drowsiness even after a full eight hours of sleep. (Here are other subtle signs of sleep apnea.)
“People who have COPD already have a lung problem,” says Dr. Oks. “It becomes even harder for them to breathe at night, so they can actually be more breathless and more fatigued overnight when they’re sleeping.”
The person with this “overlap syndrome” may not always realize they’re waking up or gasping for air. In many cases, this is noticed by their bed partner instead. For example, they may hear their partner snoring (with occasional pauses), or notice that their partner’s chest periodically stops rising and falling.
While treatment depends on the type and severity of your sleep apnea, the most common treatment for sleep apnea is a CPAP machine, or continuous positive airway pressure machine. “This is a mask that’s attached to a machine that’s delivering pressure to the back of the airway and acts as a splint,” says Dr. Oks.
Whether or not you have COPD, starting treatment for sleep apnea can have major benefits to your quality of life and overall health. “If you’re concerned about sleep apnea, ask your doctor,” says Dr. Oks. “Usually your doctor will refer you for further testing to diagnose any kind of sleep apnea."
Dr. Oks is a pulmonologist at Lenox Hill Hospital and Northwell Health. She is triple board-certified in Internal Medicine, Critical Care Medicine, and Pulmonary Disease.
00:00:00,000 --> 00:00:02,331
00:00:02,331 --> 00:00:06,978
Often times, sleep apnea and
COPD can coexist together.
00:00:06,978 --> 00:00:11,880
There is an overlap syndrome that we're
now actually beginning to recognize and
00:00:11,880 --> 00:00:16,708
understand that there could be some groups
that have a higher prevalence of both
00:00:16,708 --> 00:00:18,742
disorders occurring together.
00:00:18,742 --> 00:00:23,826
00:00:23,826 --> 00:00:26,088
Sleep apnea is when we stop breathing for
00:00:26,088 --> 00:00:29,200
short periods of time when
we're sleeping at night.
00:00:29,200 --> 00:00:33,450
The most common is obstructive sleep apnea
and this happens when your upper airway
00:00:33,450 --> 00:00:38,600
narrows and there's a limitation to
the airflow that happens in the airway.
00:00:38,600 --> 00:00:41,600
These essations to breathing
are very short lived and
00:00:41,600 --> 00:00:44,380
our brains biologically wake us up.
00:00:44,380 --> 00:00:47,496
People who have COPD,
they already have a lung problem, right.
00:00:47,496 --> 00:00:51,107
They have a limitation with the function
of their lungs and it becomes even harder
00:00:51,107 --> 00:00:54,239
for them to breathe at night so
they can actually be more breathless and
00:00:54,239 --> 00:00:56,490
more fatigue overnight
when they're sleeping.
00:00:56,490 --> 00:00:59,870
There's usually you're not
aware of this happening, but
00:00:59,870 --> 00:01:04,603
bed partners might notice that somebody's
snoring that their chests actually not
00:01:04,603 --> 00:01:07,251
rising as one would
expect with every breath.
00:01:07,251 --> 00:01:09,721
If you are concerned for
sleep apnea go ask your doctor.
00:01:09,721 --> 00:01:12,188
Usually your doctor will refer you for
00:01:12,188 --> 00:01:15,669
further testing to diagnose
any kind of sleep apnea.
00:01:15,669 --> 00:01:20,260
It's a sleep study that could either be
done at home or it can be done in the lab,
00:01:20,260 --> 00:01:24,923
and then depending on the type of sleep
apnea and the severity of sleep apnea that
00:01:24,923 --> 00:01:30,168
is diagnosed, that's when we can determine
the type of treatment that is appropriate.
00:01:30,168 --> 00:01:33,847
The most common way that sleep
apnea is treated is with PAP,
00:01:33,847 --> 00:01:38,430
which is positive airway pressure,
more commonly known as CPAP.
00:01:38,430 --> 00:01:41,288
This is a mask that's
attached to a machine,
00:01:41,288 --> 00:01:46,174
that's delivering pressure to the back
of the airway and acts as a splint, so
00:01:46,174 --> 00:01:50,236
that narrowing that normally
happens in sleep apnea is actually
00:01:50,236 --> 00:01:54,773
eliminated because of the pressure
splint that the machine provides.
00:01:54,773 --> 00:01:57,732
Sleep apnea definitely
can be a scary diagnosis,
00:01:57,732 --> 00:02:01,758
especially when people hear that
they stopped breathing at night.
00:02:01,758 --> 00:02:05,854
But what's important for people to
remember is that our bodies are designed
00:02:05,854 --> 00:02:09,760
in such a way that we will always wake
up from the blockages to breathing.
00:02:09,760 --> 00:02:14,782
COPD and difficulty breathing. Washington, DC: National Sleep Foundation. (Accessed on September 5, 2019 at https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/copd-and-difficulty-breathing.)
Sleep apnea. Washington, DC: National Sleep Foundation. (Accessed on September 5, 2019 at https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-apnea.)
Sleep apnea and COPD: what you should know. Miami, FL: COPD Foundation. (Accessed on September 5, 2019 at https://www.copdfoundation.org/COPD360social/Community/COPD-Digest/Article/66/Sleep-Apnea-and-COPD-What-You-Should-Know.aspx.)
What is COPD? Miami, FL: COPD Foundation. (Accessed on September 5, 2019 at https://www.copdfoundation.org/What-is-COPD/Understanding-COPD/What-is-COPD.aspx.)