Study Helps Coughing Smokers Sleep Easy

As seen on Channel 9 news:

Smokers with a hacking cough disease may soon sleep easier thanks to an innovative Sydney project investigating why they struggle to get their 40 winks.

Sleeping problems are rife among the 300,000 Australians living with the smoking disease chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.

Lung specialists at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney want to change that with an Australian-first study delving into the causes of night time disturbances that leave COPD sufferers feeling fatigued through the day.

“Unfortunately for people with COPD it is common to have a restless night’s sleep, wake up during the night with breathing problems and then spend the day in a fatigued fog,” explains Professor Greg King, Woolcock Respiratory Physician and one of the Principal Investigators in the CIRCOMED study.


“What we want to know is whether these sleep troubles are caused by the COPD itself or by other problems, like a pre-existing sleep disorder or changes in lung function during sleep. By understanding the real cause, we can better target treatment and get these sufferers sleeping deeply again,” he says.

About 6000 Australians die each year from COPD, a respiratory illness that destroys the lungs and makes it difficult to breathe. The condition, most commonly triggered by smoking, is responsible for about 60,000 hospitalisations annually. 

COPD sufferers have airway narrowing, bronchitis and emphysema, and while the search continues to prevent the disease and slow its progression, there are treatment strategies available that alleviate symptoms, reduce complications and improve quality of life. The study will help improve all of these aspects of COPD by shedding light on how lung function and circadian rhythms affect sleep quality and symptoms.

The Woolcock team are recruiting 100 COPD patients to undergo lung assessments and spend a night in the institute’s purpose-built sleep lab where their sleep will be closely monitored.

“We expect to find a significant number of patients have a disturbed sleep, but more importantly, we hope to come away with a clearer idea of what’s causing it,” Professor King says.

“Ultimately we want to translate that into better treatments that will not only help with sleep but improve quality of life throughout the day too.”

Researchers hope to recruit 100 people with COPD who are smokers or ex-smokers with either cough, shortness of breath or wheeze, and who have COPD, which will be confirmed as part of the study.

All recruits get comprehensive lung function tests and a medical assessment by a respiratory specialist and overnight diagnostic sleep study. They’ll need to complete a self-measured lung function, activity and symptom diary daily at home. Expenses will be reimbursed.

To sign up to this study click here. 

COPD in Australia

  • COPD affects one in 13 Australians aged 40 and over. Rates are higher in men.
  • Sufferers struggle to breathe deeply and are afflicted with weak lungs and a persistent mucous-heavy cough.
  • Smoking is the primary cause but other triggers include tuberculosis, air pollution and occupational exposure in workplaces such as mines.
  • The condition costs Australia about $950m in direct health costs each year, accounting for 1.3 per cent of all healthcare expenditure.
  • COPD patients routinely experience night time waking, poor quality sleep, breathing problems on waking and fatigue during the day.
  • Woolcock researchers are monitoring the sleep of 100 COPD patients in the hope they can learn the underlying cause of sleep issues and better treat them to improve quality of life.