PH Often Prevents Me From Getting Quality Sleep

Eleanor Bird avatar

by Eleanor Bird |

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Everyone feels the effects of a bad night’s sleep. But for those with chronic illness, sleepless nights can be debilitating.

Since being diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension (PH), I have found that if I sleep poorly, I struggle to function, which can make surviving a day at work nearly impossible.

The irony is that while those with chronic illness often need more sleep, chronic conditions can make sleeping more difficult.

When I first saw my general practitioner after being diagnosed with PH, one of the first questions he asked was, “Are you sleeping through the night?” At the time, I thought it was a strange question. As a newly diagnosed patient, I thought I had bigger things to worry about than how I was sleeping. But I wasn’t yet aware of how my condition would affect my ability to sleep, and the impact that would have on my life. 

In terms of PH and sleep, two main issues come into play: anxiety and physical symptoms.

As someone dealing with serious health problems, I can often compartmentalize my worries about illness throughout the day, because it is part of being a functioning human being and getting on with life. But when it’s time to switch off, I find that things can catch up to me, and my brain will start to whir. I’ll overthink potential symptoms and panic about what my future might hold. 

Physical symptoms can compound this reality. While you might think that breathlessness is unlikely to affect you while you’re lying down, that’s not the case for many PH patients. Lying flat can trigger breathlessness.

I also find that certain sleeping positions put pressure on my chest, which worsens my symptoms. One thing I’ve found that helps is to have extra pillows behind my head to slightly elevate myself, and pillows to the side so that when I roll over, I don’t have added pressure on my chest, just soft, cushiony goodness!

Anxiety can be a little bit more difficult to conquer, but I find that having good sleep hygiene helps. I make sure to leave plenty of time to wind down, I listen to podcasts rather than looking at my phone’s screen, and I make sure I have the same routine each night.

While these little adjustments can help, unfortunately, interrupted sleep still affects my quality of life. I have shared this with my doctors, but they told me that taking sleeping pills could negatively affect my PH, so that’s out of the question.

I’ve just had to learn to live with it and work around my sleep issues. I try not to put too much pressure on myself when I haven’t slept well, and I try to be as productive as I can on days when I am well-rested.

Do you have trouble sleeping? Please share in the comments below. 


Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


Tricia stagner avatar

Tricia stagner

Thank you for sharing your sleep experience! I too have many nights I can not sleep and my doctors also will not prescribe sleep medicines to me! But it finally got so bad that now I am allowed to take melatonin, which is an all natural form of sleep aid! Ask your doctor first before trying this! It is found in your stores vitamin and OTC medications.

Jon Berry avatar

Jon Berry

I wake up at night and have to sit upright for half an hour or so to be able to breathe well again. My lungs feel tight and restricted and this is with O2. I very rarely sleep through a night. Because of this, I take naps almost every day. I have CHF as well as 2ndary PH. I was born with a congenital heart condition.


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