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Causes of Shortness of Breath When Lying Down

author image Lori Newell
I hold a Master's degree in exercise physiology/health promotion. I am a certified fitness specialist through the American College of Spots Medicine and an IYT certified yoga teacher. I have over 25 years experience teaching classes to both general public and those with chronic illness. The above allows me to write directly to the reader based on personal experiences.
Causes of Shortness of Breath When Lying Down
Causes of Shortness of Breath When Lying Down Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images

If you experience shortness of breath when lying down, it may be a sign of an underlying medical condition. It can also interrupt your ability to get a good night's sleep and can lead to insomnia. Certain conditions can cause this symptom. If this is happening to you, see your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan to avoid complications.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD is a general term used to describe many conditions that make it hard to breathe. It can be due to chronic bronchitis, emphysema or asthma. The University of Maryland says smoking is the leading cause of COPD; however, you can also develop this condition as a result of exposure to chemicals or pollutants. It occurs when the airways are constricted or inflamed. This condition can be mild or severe and may be helped by propping up your head on several pillows. When you sit up, you have gravity to help your diaphragm move down, which allows the lungs to expand easier.

Heart Disease

If your heart muscles aren't working properly or are affected by disease, you may have difficulty breathing when lying down. This is because your body isn't getting the oxygen it needs. When you're lying down, your heart muscle needs to work harder to pump blood and oxygen through your body. With heart disease, you may also become short of breath with mild exertion as well. High blood pressure or irregular heart rhythms can be warning signs, especially if they accompany your breathing difficulties. The National Institutes of Health recommends talking to your doctor if your shortness of breath is relieved by sitting upright.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a condition that occurs when your airway becomes blocked while sleeping. If your neck is more narrow than normal or if the muscles that normally keep your throat open to breathe become relaxed, you may be awakened by gasping or snoring. You may not be aware that you're having trouble breathing when lying down; however, you may have unexplained fatigue during the day. According to the American Sleep Apnea Association, if left untreated you may develop trouble concentrating, memory problems, heart disease and depression.

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