5 Possible Triggers of Nocturnal Asthma

Are asthma symptoms keeping you up at night? Here are five asthma triggers that can interfere with sleep.

Medically reviewed in August 2021

If you battle your worst asthma symptoms at night, you could have nocturnal asthma, also called nighttime asthma. As the name implies, this is when asthma strikes at night, interrupting sleep. These symptoms can negatively impact a person’s quality of life in a number of ways, from hindering performance at work and school, to needing to visit a healthcare provider more frequently, to increased irritability, anxiety and numerous health risks associated with getting too little sleep.

There's usually not one specific trigger that causes nocturnal asthma. If you're struggling with symptoms of a sleep disorder or nocturnal asthma, it is important to work with your healthcare provider to identify the specific causes and determine how best to address your symptoms so you can get the rest you need.

In the meantime, here are some potential causes of nocturnal asthma and what you can do about them.

Allergy triggers that exist in your bedroom can lead to a nighttime asthma attack. These include dust mites, mold, pet dander and seasonal allergens that become trapped in your clothing, bedding and hair. Studies also show that if you're exposed to an allergen before bed, there's a good chance that you could experience a delayed second response at night. So do what you can to allergy-proof your home and avoid triggers throughout the day.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is twice as common among asthma patients, though the exact relationship between the two conditions is still unclear. However, there is also a known association between GERD and sleep disturbances. If you’ve been diagnosed with GERD, or are experiencing acid-reflux (better known as heartburn), you should discuss these symptoms with your healthcare provider.

Cold Air
While air-conditioning is often recommended to asthma patients as a way to regulate temps and reduce airborne allergens, cold, dry air is known to aggravate asthma symptoms, and air-conditioning has been reported as a trigger for asthma attacks. If your bedroom room is very cold in the winter or air-conditioned in the summer, the cold air could aggravate your airways and make asthma symptoms worse. Make adjustments to the air temperature as needed to head off any breathing issues.

Hormonal Changes
Hormonal changes that commonly occur while you sleep can increase your risk of experiencing nocturnal asthma. Epinephrine keeps your airways open and prevents airway spasms and excessive mucus reproduction. So, if this hormone drops at night, you could be more vulnerable to having an attack. You may be instructed to take your asthma medications before bedtime to help prevent this effect.

Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is a serious condition that causes a brief lapse in breathing and sometimes occurs in conjunction with asthma. If your healthcare provider suspects you have this problem, it's important to undergo testing to confirm the diagnosis so you can get proper treatment.

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