The effects of sleep interruption and deprivation were studied in 21 patients with nocturnal asthma. Seven patients were awakened at 0200 on three consecutive night and exercised for 15 minutes. This produced no significant improvement in the overnight fall in peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) compared with a control night of uninterrupted sleep. In a second study in five patients PEFR was measured at two-hourly intervals to estimate the time of onset of the nocturnal fall in PEFR. On three subsequent nights they were awakened and exercised one hour before this time. This also failed to prevent a fall in PEFR by 0600. Eleven patients, who had followed a similar protocol to the second study, were kept awake until after 0300 or later, and PEFR was observed hourly. Six of them (group A) sustained their usual fall in PEFR while awake, proving that sleep was not responsible for their nocturnal asthma. Five patients (group B) showed little fall in PEFR until they were allowed to sleep, when an appreciable fall was noted on waking at 0600. When sleep deprivation was repeated in two patients in group B, however, they sustained falls in PEFR while still awake. We conclude that the circadian rhythm in PEFR is often in phase with the timing of sleep but sleep does not cause nocturnal asthma. Disruption of sleep therefore has no apparent value in the treatment of nocturnal asthma.
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