Poor sleep habits are linked with a range of health concerns, including diabetes, cardiovascular disorder, cognitive dysfunctions, and hypertension, among others. And now, a new large study has shown that people with poor sleep habits are more likely to develop asthma. The findings show a “bidirectional” link between sleep and asthma, indicating that sleep problems can be a sign that a new asthma diagnosis is likely.
“A healthy sleep pattern reflected a lower risk of asthma in adult populations and could be beneficial to asthma prevention regardless of genetic conditions,” study authors, from Shandong University in China, wrote in the journal BMJ Open Respiratory Research. “Early detection and management of sleep disorders could be beneficial to reduce asthma incidence.”
The decade-long study added that poor sleeping patterns may bolster genetic susceptibility to asthma and could potentially double the risk of being diagnosed with the inflammatory disease. The researchers found that healthy sleep habits significantly reduced the likelihood of that happening.
A team from Shandong University in China used data from the UK Biobank study to examine 455,405 people aged 38 to 73. They developed a model of risk and sleep traits and followed participants for more than a decade. At the beginning of the study, people were asked about their sleeping patterns, how long they slept, whether they snored, had insomnia, and whether they experienced excessive sleepiness during the daytime.
The study described a healthy sleep pattern as being more of a morning person, sleeping for seven to nine hours a night, never having insomnia or experiencing it rarely, no snoring and no frequent sleepiness during the day.
As per the research, about one in three were found to have a high genetic risk of developing asthma, a third had intermediate risk and another third had a low risk.
Talking about the link between poor sleep and asthma risk, Dr Vivek Anand Padegal, Director, Pulmonology, Fortis Hospital, Bannerghatta Road said, “The significance of sound sleep cannot be overstated because poor sleep quality has been linked to an increased risk of developing asthma. This is due to its potential to trigger inflammation and immune system dysfunction, which can lead to a worsening of the condition.”
Agreeing, Dr SK Chhabra, HOD, Pulmonary, Sleep and Critical Care Medicine, Primus Super Speciality Hospital said that poor sleep can increase the risk of asthma by several mechanisms. “One is that sleep deprivation can lead to inflammation in the airways, which can trigger asthma symptoms such as wheezing and coughing. Additionally, lack of sleep can weaken the immune system, making it more susceptible to respiratory infections that can exacerbate asthma symptoms,” he said.
The expert added that poor sleep can also cause stress and anxiety, further worsening asthma symptoms. “Finally, during sleep, the body undergoes important physiological changes, including changes in breathing patterns and the release of certain hormones, that can impact asthma control.”
The pulmonologists also emphasised the close bidirectional link between sleep and lung disorders. “Disrupted sleep can worsen existing respiratory conditions such as COPD and asthma, while untreated respiratory problems can lead to sleep apnea and other sleep disturbances,” Dr Padegal said.
Dr Chhabra explained that this is because lungs are most active during sleep. “During sleep, the lungs work to remove carbon dioxide and take in oxygen, which is essential for the body’s vital functions. Sleep apnea, a common sleep disorder, is particularly relevant to lung health because it causes disruptions in breathing during sleep, which can lead to oxygen deprivation and worsen lung function.”
To improve sleep habits to help reduce asthma risk, the experts suggested following these measures:
*Establish a regular sleep schedule
*Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed
*Create a comfortable sleep environment
*Seek medical treatment in case of sleep disorders
*Maintain good control if you have asthma