How to Sleep With a Cough or a Cold: Effective Strategies for Restful Nights

How to Sleep With a Cough or a Cold
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Published ilm_admin ⋅ Review Editor
November 6, 2023

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Understanding Colds and Coughs: An Examination

Colds and coughs are common illnesses that can make everyday life difficult, especially when getting a good night’s sleep. The common cold is an infection caused by one of the many viruses, rhinoviruses. Flu, on the other hand, is caused by the influenza virus and tends to be more severe than a cold. Both colds and the flu can lead to coughs, which can be a significant nuisance.

When suffering from a cold or flu, an individual usually experiences a range of symptoms, including a runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, and general body aches. A common cold typically presents a milder set of symptoms, while the flu often presents more severe symptoms, like fever and body aches. Cold and flu symptoms can overlap and make it difficult to differentiate between the two. Coughs associated with colds and flu can be categorised into two types: wet and dry. A wet cough produces mucus or phlegm, which the body tries to expel. This cough is often a sign of a chest infection and may be accompanied by wheezing and shortness of breath. A dry cough, on the other hand, does not produce any mucus and is often described as an irritating, tickling sensation in the throat. It is essential to understand that coughs serve a purpose – they help clear mucus and irritants from the airways and protect the lungs. However, it is also possible that excessive or prolonged coughing might lead to complications or additional health concerns.

Signs and Symptoms of a Cold and Cough

When dealing with a cold, one might experience various symptoms that can be difficult to manage, especially when trying to sleep. Some common cold symptoms include a sore throat, fever, runny nose, and persistent coughing. Individuals suffering from a cold might feel muscle aches, headaches, and pressure in the ears and face.

  • Coughing is particularly bothersome for many people while sleeping. There are generally two types of coughs associated with a cold: a dry cough and a wet cough. A dry cough is accompanied by an irritating tickling sensation at the back of the throat, whereas a wet cough involves the production of mucus or phlegm, which is coughed up. Both coughs can interrupt a good night’s sleep and cause discomfort.
  • In some cases, a postnasal drip might be present, exacerbating the coughing and causing nighttime coughs. This occurs when mucus from the nasal passages drips down the back of the throat, causing an increased need to cough as the body tries to clear the mucus.
  • Congestion is another symptom often accompanying a cold, making breathing difficult through the nose. This can lead to snoring or mouth-breathing while sleeping, which can be disruptive to sleep quality.

Medical Treatments for Colds and Coughs

When faced with a cough or cold, it is essential to consult a doctor for accurate advice on the appropriate treatments. Typically, various medications are available over the counter to provide soothing relief from the symptoms, including decongestants, cough suppressants, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

  • Decongestants help relieve nasal congestion by narrowing the blood vessels in the nasal passages, thus reducing swelling and mucus production. They are available as oral medications or nasal sprays and drops. It is crucial to follow the recommended dosage instructions and consult a healthcare professional if symptoms persist or worsen.
  • Cough medicine comes in two primary forms: expectorants and suppressants. Expectorants, such as guaifenesin, aid in thinning and loosening mucus in the airways, making it easier to cough up. On the other hand, cough suppressants, also known as antitussives, work by reducing the urge to cough. Dextromethorphan is a common over-the-counter cough suppressant.
  • Nasal decongestants temporarily relieve a stuffy nose by reducing swelling in the nasal passages. They are available in oral medications and nasal sprays or drops. Pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine are examples of nasal decongestants available over the counter. It is essential to use these products as directed and consult a doctor if the congestion does not improve or worsens.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may help alleviate pain and reduce fever associated with colds and coughs. These medications have analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, effectively treating various cold symptoms.
  • Antihistamines are medications typically used to treat allergy symptoms, but they can also help with colds by drying up mucus in the nasal passages and reducing nasal congestion. Some common over-the-counter antihistamines include diphenhydramine, chlorpheniramine, and cetirizine. It is crucial to follow the recommended dosage instructions and consult a healthcare professional if symptoms persist or worsen.

Home Remedies for Your Cold and Cough

A cold or cough can make it challenging to get a good night’s sleep. Fortunately, various home remedies can help alleviate the symptoms and ensure a more restful sleep.

  1. A humidifier in your bedroom can provide relief by adding moisture to the air. This helps to alleviate congestion and soothe irritated airways. It’s essential to maintain your humidifier clean to avoid the growth of bacteria and mould.
  2. Steam can offer similar benefits as the humidifier, especially when dealing with a stuffy nose. Taking a hot shower before bed can help to loosen up mucus and clear your nasal passages. Inhaling the warm vapour can also soothe your throat and reduce coughing.
  3. Drinking a warm cup of tea before bedtime can be another effective remedy. Herbal teas like chamomile or ginger can help relax your body and mind, while the warm steam may clear your congestion. Adding a spoonful of honey not only sweetens the tea but also acts as a natural cough suppressant, as it helps soothe the throat. Mixing honey and lemon in warm water is another popular option providing similar relief.
  4. Menthol is another ingredient often found in cold and cough remedies, like vapour rubs and lozenges. Rubbing menthol products on your chest and neck can help to open up your airways and reduce coughing, enabling a more comfortable sleep. Similarly, sucking on lozenges can soothe your irritated throat and ease coughing.
  5. A saline nasal spray before bed can help flush out mucus and reduce nasal congestion, making breathing easier. Saline sprays are available at most pharmacies and can be used safely for most individuals, as they contain natural ingredients. Incorporating these home remedies into your nightly routine can significantly improve your sleeping ability when dealing with a cold or cough. Remember to consult your doctor if your symptoms persist or worsen.

Effective Measures to Alleviate Bed-Time Coughing

Having a cough or cold can significantly affect the quality of your sleep. To ensure a good night’s rest, there are several measures you can take to alleviate bed-time coughing.

  • Gravity can make it more difficult to breathe when lying down, as it causes mucus to accumulate at the back of the throat. To counter this, use an extra pillow to elevate your head and neck, enabling easier breathing and reducing coughing.
  • Adjusting the thermostat and maintaining a cool room temperature may allow for more comfortable sleep while dealing with a cough. Cooler air is less irritating to the throat, and a comfortable temperature between 16 and 18 degrees Celsius is optimal for sleep.
  • Proper humidity levels are essential to keep your airways moist and minimise irritation. A humidifier such as the Bear 5L Top Fill Humidifier (Amazon)
    can add moisture to the air, helping to reduce coughing during the night. However, ensure it is regularly cleaned to prevent mould and bacteria growth.
  • Taking a warm shower before bed can help to loosen mucus in the chest and sinuses, making it easier to breathe. The steam from the shower also triggers a natural sleep-inducing response in the body, promoting relaxation.
  • A consistent sleep schedule can aid in better sleep quality despite a cough or cold. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day will help to regulate the body’s internal clock, leading to more restful sleep.
  • Lastly, it is essential to keep your bedding clean and allergen-free. Regularly washing sheets, pillowcases, and duvets can prevent allergens and irritants from contributing to coughing and difficulty sleeping. Choose breathable, hypoallergenic materials where possible to ensure a healthy sleep environment.

Hydration and its Importance

Staying hydrated plays a significant role in promoting good sleep, especially when suffering from a cough or cold. Proper hydration is essential for overall health, as it affects concentration and allows the body to perform at its best [source]. Hydration levels can also have a direct impact on sleep quality.

In the context of a cough or cold, drinking a warm liquid can provide immediate comfort and relief. Warm beverages, such as herbal tea or broth, can help soothe a sore throat and loosen mucus, making breathing easier. Additionally, the steam from a warm beverage can help alleviate nasal congestion, further promoting better sleep. Staying hydrated can help thin the mucus in the respiratory system, which makes it easier to cough up and reduces discomfort.

Moreover, adequate hydration helps combat the fatigue that often accompanies illness, improving overall sleep quality and recovery [source]. It is essential to monitor your hydration levels when dealing with a cough or cold, as both the symptoms and the loss of appetite that often follows illness can make it challenging to stay adequately hydrated. Make a conscious effort to drink water, herbal teas, or other fluids throughout the day to provide hydration. Proper hydration is crucial for those suffering from a cough or cold, as it helps the body function effectively, alleviates unpleasant symptoms, and improves sleep quality. Drinking warm liquids offers additional benefits and contributes to a more comfortable, refreshing night’s sleep.

About Over-the-counter Medications

When facing a cough or cold, over-the-counter medications can be highly beneficial in managing symptoms and helping you get a good night’s sleep. There are several types of medications available, which may target specific symptoms or have a combination of effects.

  • Decongestants work to reduce swelling in the nasal passages, making it easier for you to breathe. These can be found in pills, liquids, or nasal sprays. However, decongestants may not suit everyone, especially those with certain health conditions.
  • Steroid nasal sprays help to reduce inflammation in the nasal passages, alleviating congestion. They are commonly used to treat allergic reactions but can also be helpful for cold-related congestion. It is essential to follow the instructions provided with these sprays, as overuse can lead to side effects.
  • Expectorants, such as guaifenesin, aid in thinning the mucus in your airways, making it easier to cough up. This can help alleviate chest congestion and make breathing more comfortable while suffering from a cold or cough.
  • Antihistamines may be used to control a runny nose and sneezing. They block histamine, a chemical released by your body during an allergic reaction, and are also involved in some cold symptoms. Some antihistamines can cause drowsiness, so be cautious when taking these, especially before bedtime.
  • If you’re suffering from a cough due to a cold, ace inhibitors may not be the best solution. These medications are typically used to treat high blood pressure and heart-related conditions, but they can cause a dry cough as a side effect.
  • A neti pot can ease nasal congestion by flushing out mucus and debris. Although not a medication, this saline solution can be highly effective in relieving cold and cough symptoms.

Recognising When to Seek Medical Attention

It is essential to know when to consult a doctor or a healthcare professional while dealing with a cough or cold. Though most coughs and colds can be managed at home with over-the-counter medications and self-care measures, in some instances, medical attention is required to prevent complications and ensure a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

One of the primary indicators of when to see a doctor is the duration of the cough or cold. If a cough persists for more than three weeks without any improvement, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional. Additionally, if the cold symptoms worsen or do not improve after ten days, seeking medical advice could be necessary. Experiencing accompanying symptoms such as fever, chest pains, headaches, drowsiness, or confusion might indicate a more severe underlying condition. In these cases, consulting a doctor becomes crucial to identify the cause of the symptoms and determine the appropriate treatment. Coughing up blood is another red flag that should prompt an immediate visit to a healthcare professional. This symptom might indicate inflammation or infection in the respiratory tract, requiring prompt medical attention. Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath is another symptom requiring a consultation with a doctor. This could signify a more severe respiratory condition that needs to be diagnosed and treated accordingly.

When visiting a healthcare professional for persistent cough or cold symptoms, they may conduct various tests to determine the cause of the symptoms. These tests might include blood tests, sputum tests, imaging tests such as chest X-rays or CT scans, spirometry, or a methacholine challenge test. These diagnostic tools can help the doctor identify the underlying condition and recommend the most appropriate treatment plan.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I stop coughing immediately at night?

To stop coughing at night, use a lozenge or a humidifier to soothe your throat and add moisture to the air. Also, elevating your head or neck with an extra pillow can help drain mucus and reduce coughing.

What position should I sleep in with a cold and cough?

When dealing with a cold and a cough, you must elevate your head and neck while sleeping. This position helps reduce coughing caused by postnasal drip and allows mucus to drain more effectively, providing relief and better sleep.

Why does my cough worsen when lying down?

Coughing often worsens when lying down due to the effect of gravity on mucus and postnasal drip. When lying down, mucus can build up in your throat, leading to coughing and discomfort. Keeping your head elevated while you sleep can help prevent this buildup and alleviate coughing.

How can I manage a dry cough while sleeping?

Managing a dry cough while sleeping can involve a combination of home remedies and over-the-counter treatments. Consider using a humidifier to add moisture to the air, which can help soothe a dry throat. Also, drink a warm drink before bed to help loosen mucus and alleviate congestion. If these methods don’t provide relief, you may also use over-the-counter cough medicine, but always follow the label instructions and consult a healthcare professional if symptoms persist.

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