Shortness of Breath at Night: What It Could Mean

Kenneth Knowles, MD
Medically reviewed by Kenneth Knowles, MDApril 30th, 2021
shortness of breath

After a day of being on the go, all you want to do is lay down at night and unwind. However, this is hard to do lately, as you find it increasingly difficult to catch your breath. This can certainly be a frustrating experience, as the night should be for relaxing and enjoying a deep sleep. You’re not alone in this feeling—there’s actually a medical term for the sensation of breathlessness when lying down: orthopnea. This shortness of breath can be a symptom of many conditions, making it hard to pinpoint exactly what’s disrupting your nighttime routine. Here are some possible explanations:

Sleep Apnea

One of the most common reasons people have shortness of breath while laying down is sleep apnea, While it’s incorrectly thought of as just snoring, sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. With sleep apnea, the muscles in your throat relax and obstruct your airways, especially when lying on your back.

Symptoms of sleep apnea can include snoring, gasping for air during sleep, awakening with a dry mouth or sore throat, difficulty staying asleep, headaches, irritability, and daytime sleepiness. Some proven treatment methods include nasal decongestants or breathing devices such as a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine.

Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure (CHF) often causes difficulty breathing, especially when lying down. This condition occurs when your heart doesn’t pump blood as well as it should, typically as a result of narrowed arteries in your heart (coronary artery disease) or high blood pressure. This can make it harder for other parts of your body, like your lungs, to work to their full capacity.

Asthma or Allergies

Nighttime can prove to be challenging for people with asthma or allergies. If you’re sleeping in a room that has excessive dust, mold, or pet dander, this can trigger your asthma or allergies, making it more difficult to breathe.

Other ways that asthma causes shortness of breath at night include sleeping in a position that puts pressure on your diaphragm, mucus building up in your throat causing you to cough and struggle for breath, and the fact that your hormones change at night.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of lung diseases that cause blocked or narrowed airways, therefore making breathing more difficult. So, it shouldn’t be too surprising to learn that COPD can also contribute to shortness of breath at night. People with lung disorders commonly report that breathing is more difficult while lying down, so patients with COPD may notice their symptoms worsen when they get into bed.

Count on DispatchHealth for Quick Treatment

It’s best to consult a doctor if you’re experiencing orthopnea. Your doctor will help you to determine the cause and develop a treatment plan that helps you breathe and sleep better at night.

If, however, you find that your orthopnea flares up again and aren’t able to make it to the doctor’s office, you can rely on DispatchHealth for in-home care. We have extensive experience caring for people with shortness of breath, COPD, asthma, and other conditions, so you can rest assured that you’ll be in the right hands.

Contact DispatchHealth today to learn more about our in-home healthcare or to schedule an appointment.


DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.

Sources referenced in this article:

The DispatchHealth blog provides tips, tricks and advice for improving lives through convenient, comfortable healthcare.

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