Respiratory Health And Sleep

A good night’s sleep is not simply a way of resting for the day. Sleep has many health benefits. It strengthens immunity, reduces stress, and improves cardiovascular and brain health. Lack of sleep also causes health challenges. The benefits sleep has on respiratory health emphasise the importance of sleep. This article explores what respiratory health is and how sleep affects it.

What is good respiratory health?

A healthy respiratory system includes the lungs and other respiratory organs functioning optimally. Good respiratory health means that respiratory diseases are absent as well as their risks.1

Humans attain peak lung health in young adulthood. Reduced lung function at this time could signal impaired respiratory health in the future. Lung health declines after early adulthood. Even when the lungs appear healthy, certain factors improve or worsen respiratory health during this decline:

  • Diet - A good diet that contains fruits, vegetables and fish maintains respiratory health.
  • Physical activity - Exercising reduces the risk of respiratory diseases and improves the symptoms of these diseases. People with respiratory diseases should exercise moderately. 
  • Smoking - Smoking damages the airways and air sacs in the lungs. Smoking can cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer. Smoking also worsens the symptoms of lung diseases.
  • Exposure to air pollutants - This leads to coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. In the long term, this exposure causes lung diseases.1

There are also childhood, pre-birth and parental factors that affect peak lung health. They include:

  • Parental asthma
  • Parental allergic rhinitis 
  • Exposure to air pollutants and tobacco smoke while in the womb and during childhood 
  • Childhood asthma 
  • Childhood respiratory infections1

How does sleep affect respiratory health?

Getting enough sleep benefits all systems, including the lungs.

The reason why humans need to sleep is not yet clear. But sleep is not merely a restful state. It benefits different body systems including the respiratory system.2

Lack of sleep also impacts body systems negatively. The results of sleep deprivation on other body systems can affect the respiratory system indirectly. For example, sleep deprivation increases stress3 and stress causes short and rapid breathing. People without respiratory diseases can manage this extra work. However, stress might cause complications for people with respiratory diseases.

What can lack of sleep do to your respiratory system?

It is recommended that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Lack of sleep or sleep deprivation is associated with negative impacts on your body. Sleep deprivation has negative effects on the respiratory system of healthy individuals and people with respiratory diseases.

Increase risk of respiratory infection

Sleep can decrease immunity in general, in the respiratory system, lack of sleep increases the risk of upper respiratory tract infections like the flu, common cold, sinus infections and sore throat. This is because sleep deprivation weakens the immune system. This reduces the body’s ability to fight off infections when they occur.4 Resultantly,  sleep deprived people often fall sick with upper respiratory tract infections as well as other illnesses. 

Worsen symptoms of chronic respiratory conditions

When we sleep, we lose conscious control of our breathing. Therefore, we don't breathe as well as when we are awake. Our airways and breathing muscles become more relaxed. Our response to low oxygen or high carbon dioxide levels is depressed. Sleeping, to some extent, restricts breathing even when we are healthy, but this effect is insignificant.2,5

This restriction poses problems for people with chronic respiratory conditions as they already have breathing problems, so they experience difficulty breathing at night. This may interrupt sleep in these individuals.

Lack of sleep also worsens symptoms of respiratory diseases. According to the American thoracic society, sleep deprivation worsens symptoms of COPD and asthma during the day, increases the need for rescue inhalers, and worsens quality of life. Sleep deprivation could even lead to complications of these diseases.

The connection between sleep and breathing goes both ways

As well as sleep being important for healthy lungs, breathing is important for quality sleep.

Sleep is important for maintaining respiratory health and the health of the whole body. And proper breathing is important for good quality sleep. If breathing is impaired during sleep, it disrupts sleep by causing frequent arousals and trouble falling asleep again. This reduces the quality of sleep and causes daytime sleepiness.2 

Once sleep is affected by breathing problems, it impacts the respiratory health and wellbeing of the whole body negatively. Daytime sleepiness also affects productivity at work, driving and cognitive abilities


Sleep affects the health of the whole body, including respiratory health. Lack of sleep could cause respiratory infections and worsen symptoms of respiratory diseases. Good respiratory health is also necessary for proper sleep as breathing problems disrupt sleep. In turn, proper sleep is essential for decent respiratory health.  


  1. Reyfman PA, Washko GR, Dransfield MT, Spira A, Han MK, Kalhan R. Defining impaired respiratory health. A paradigm shift for pulmonary medicine. Am J Respir Crit Care Med [Internet]. 2018 Aug 15 [cited 2022 Sep 7];198(4):440–6.
  2. Choudhary SS, Choudhary SR. Sleep effects on breathing and respiratory diseases. Lung India [Internet]. 2009 [cited 2022 Sep 7];26(4):117–22.
  3. Hirotsu C, Tufik S, Andersen ML. Interactions between sleep, stress, and metabolism: From physiological to pathological conditions. Sleep Sci [Internet]. 2015 Nov [cited 2022 Sep 7];8(3):143–52.
  4. Robinson CH, Albury C, McCartney D, Fletcher B, Roberts N, Jury I, et al. The relationship between duration and quality of sleep and upper respiratory tract infections: a systematic review. Family Practice [Internet]. 2021 Nov 24 [cited 2022 Sep 7];38(6):802–10.
  5. McNicholas WT, Hansson D, Schiza S, Grote L. Sleep in chronic respiratory disease: COPD and hypoventilation disorders. European Respiratory Review [Internet]. 2019 Sep 30 [cited 2022 Sep 7];28(153).

Roseline Akpa

Bachelor of Science degree in Human Physiology, Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria

She is a freelance health writer interested in mental health, holistic health, and health tech. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
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