Bad cough keeping you awake at night? 10 ways to curb it

Tickly coughs get worse at night and there’s nothing more frustrating than spluttering when you should be fast asleep. Here’s how to curb that bedtime cough...

When you’ve been battling the annoying symptoms of a cough and cold all day long, all you want to do at night is crawl into bed and get a good night’s sleep. 

But in cruel reality, most of us are kept awake half the night spluttering and sniffing with an irritating cough or a stuffy nose, often leaving you - and your partner - feeling much worse come the morning. 

[Read more: What is your cough trying to tell you?]

Why is a cough worse at night?

Professor Alyn Morice, cough expert and head of cardiorespiratory studies at Hull York Medical School, says: “Throughout the course of the day, your body’s natural reaction is to swallow frequently, which helps the nasal mucus to drain down your nose and throat. 

“If you’re feeling congested then you will also blow your nose several times a day to clear the airways.”

Breathing through your mouth makes your cough worse

Professor Morice added: “When you lie down in bed at night to go to sleep, it becomes harder for your body to clear your airways naturally and mucus can build up in your throat.

“This usually forces you to breathe through your mouth, making it dry and irritating the nerves at the back of the throat. The virus deliberately makes these nerves sensitive, causing you to cough.

“Coughing is part of the body’s defence mechanism, clearing the airways of mucus and preventing it from ‘going down the wrong way’, but the virus hijacks this defence to spread itself about through coughing.” 

Ten tips to help you sleep soundly with a cough

So what can you do to increase your chance of sleeping soundly with a cough? Professor Morice shares his top tips:

1. Sleep on an incline

All the mucus that builds up in your nose or throat while you lie down irritates your throat, so pop some extra pillows under your head and let gravity do its job.

2. Take a hot shower or bath

Not only will it help you to relax, but the steam will help loosen the mucus and relieve congestion from your nose and chest. 

Breathe in the steam slowly for a few minutes, then try coughing or blowing your nose to break up the mucus.

3. Prepare your bedside

The last thing you want to be doing in the middle of the night is fumbling around in the kitchen cupboard trying to find some medicine. 

Make sure you have some water, tissues and cough medicine on your bedside table to help soothe the cough if it starts to irritate you.

4. Wash the bedding

Dust mites, pet hair and other allergens lurk on your bedding, and if you’re an allergic sort of person, they could add to the irritation in your respiratory tract. 

Make sure you wash your bedding at least once a week in hot water.

5. Take a cough suppressant

This helps reduce the urge to cough throughout the night. 

6. Control the humidity level

A humidifier can help you to breathe easier when you’re congested and can also stop your throat from becoming too dry while you sleep. Try to keep humidity levels at 50% to stop the air becoming too damp.

7. Stay hydrated

Make sure you keep hydrated throughout the day by regularly sipping water, which will soothe the cough reflex and also help with a sore throat.

8. Avoid lying on your back

Although sleeping on your back allows your lungs to breathe and expand, it can also make snoring much worse – especially if you’re congested! Try sleeping on your side to avoid your partner angrily waking you up in the middle of the night.

9. Relax in a good environment

When you’re feeling under the weather, a comfy bed, blankets and a dark room will help you sleep better.  Make sure you put your phone and laptop away a good couple of hours before you go to bed to help you unwind, and avoid caffeine after 3pm.

10. Book a doctor’s appointment

If your symptoms persist for more than three weeks you should seek medical advice as it could be a sign of something more serious.

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