Chronic breathlessness and sleep problems: a population-based survey

BMJ Journals
Publication Type:
Journal Article
BMJ Open, 2021, 11, (8)
Issue Date:
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This study aimed to explore the relationship (presence and severity) between chronic breathlessness and sleep problems, independently of diagnoses and health service contact by surveying a large, representative sample of the general population.


Analysis of the 2017 South Australian Health Omnibus Survey, an annual, cross-sectional, face-to-face, multistage, clustered area systematic sampling survey carried out in Spring 2017.Chronic breathlessness was self-reported using the ordinal modified Medical Research Council (mMRC; scores 0 (none) to 4 (housebound)) where breathlessness has been present for more than 3 of the previous 6 months. 'Sleep problems-ever' and 'sleep problem-current' were assessed dichotomously. Regression models were adjusted for age; sex and body mass index (BMI).


2900 responses were available (mean age 48.2 years (SD=18.6); 51% were female; mean BMI 27. 1 (SD=5.9)). Prevalence was: 2.7% (n=78) sleep problems-past; 6.8% (n=198) sleep problems-current and breathlessness (mMRC 1-4) was 8.8% (n=254). Respondents with sleep problemspast were more likely to be breathless, older with a higher BMI and sleep problems-present also included a higher likelihood of being female.After adjusting for age, sex and BMI, respondents with chronic breathlessness had 1.9 (95% CI=1.0 to 3.5) times the odds of sleep problems-past and sleep problems-current (adjusted OR=2.3; 95% CI=1.6 to 3.3).


There is a strong association between the two prevalent conditions. Future work will seek to understand if there is a causal relationship using validated sleep assessment tools and whether better managing one condition improves the other.
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