Offering sleep relief for lung disease

Sleep study for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and a morphine pill

Medical Research
SLEEP EXPERT: Respiratory specialist Dr Thomas Altree.

SLEEP EXPERT: Respiratory specialist Dr Thomas Altree.


A study will be done to see how a morphine pill affects breathlessness on sleep and breathing.


Chronic breathlessness is very distressing and often prevents a good night's sleep.

New research at Flinders University is taking a detailed look at the sleep of people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), focusing on the benefits of using a low-dose daily morphine pill.

The trial, led by sleep expert Professor Danny Eckert and respiratory specialist Dr Thomas Altree, needs people with COPD to take part in a two-week study assessing the effects of this common drug for breathlessness on sleep and breathing.

With the disease diagnosed in about one in 20 Australians aged 45 and over (ABS National Health Survey, 2017-18), the rate rises significantly among people aged over 75 and is the fifth leading cause of death in Australia.

"COPD causes breathlessness during the day, but we often forget that it also causes major problems with sleep, due to coughing, lighter sleep and sometimes accompanying insomnia or sleep apnoea," Dr Altree said.

"In order to reduce breathlessness, doctors often prescribe low-dose morphine to people with COPD. It can be very effective, but we really don't fully understand how the drug actually improves breathing.

"One way we think it works is by improving sleep quality, which has flow-on effects for breathlessness the next day."

This research directly follows ground-breaking work done at Flinders University by Prof David Currow, a world expert on breathlessness whose research led to morphine being licensed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration of Australia for chronic breathlessness in 2019.

Prof Currow, from Wollongong University, is working on this study.

Dr Altree said the results will have important implications for the way doctors treat COPD in the future.

Participants will be compensated for their travel and time.

For more information, phone the Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health clinical trials team at 08-7221-8312.