Poor sleep quality is bad for lung disease, even more than smoking

The results may help scientists explain why COPD affects African Americans more.
Mert Erdemir


It's a well-known fact that sleep has a considerable influence on life quality. A good night's sleep for seven or more hours not only allows you to have a more energetic day but also has long-term benefits.

As might be expected, it's vice versa for insufficient or interrupted sleep. A new study conducted by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) shows that poor sleep quality may have significant negative effects on progressive lung disease, even more so than smoking.

Tracking the "flare-ups"

The research was conducted on 1,647 subjects, all of which had confirmed COPD. During this period, researchers tracked the "flare-ups," a short-term worsening of the symptoms, in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) for three years and compared their incidence with self-reported data on sleep quality.

The results of the study suggest that inadequate sleep may increase the risk of a flare-up by up to 95 percent when compared to people with good sleep. The lead author of the study, Aaron Baugh, MD, a clinical resident at the UCSF Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, Allergy and Sleep Medicine, and the Cardiovascular Research Institute, suggests that the findings can also provide an explanation of why COPD affects African American patients worse than white patients.

“African Americans are over-represented in low-income neighborhoods, where people are less likely to have good quality sleep. They may live in crowded spaces with multiple roommates, and have less comfortable sleeping conditions, such as a couch, and they may work in a job with a varying schedule that lends itself to sleep disruption,” said Baugh. "Research shows sleep deprivation is associated with a drop in infection-fighting antibodies and protective cytokines," he further added.

African Americans have worse sleep patterns

At first, the medium age of the study's participants was 65, and the stage of their illness was moderate. 57 percent of the participants were male, 80 percent were white, and 14 percent were African American. Plus, all the participants were current or former smokers, and they had undergone at least one sleep evaluation before enrollment.

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The results have shown that people who have poor sleep quality also have a 25 percent more chance of a flare-up within the next year. The rate increases up to 95 percent for those with the worst sleep. As mentioned above, more African Americans reported poor sleep than did white participants: 63 percent of African Americans had a bad quality of sleep, while the rate was 52 percent for whites.

“While factors like health insurance coverage or respiratory hazards may play important roles in the severity of the disease, poor sleep may gain even more significance when African Americans’ social status improves,” said Baugh. “This can lead to a kind of paradox; in reducing one risk factor, a new risk factor – poor sleep – may take its place.”

The results of the study were published in the journal SLEEP.