Start by doing these five things:
- Shift your sleeping position. Propping yourself up may quiet your cough long enough to help you fall asleep. "Some people do well with a couple of pillows or sleeping in a recliner chair," says Brent A. Senior, MD, professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. "Try it for a couple of nights; it might be worthwhile."
- Drink tea. Hot drinks can soothe a cough. "If somebody feels that the air is dry, they could certainly try moistening their upper tract with hot tea, lemon juice, and honey," says Molly Cooke, MD, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine. Avoid caffeinated teas, which can keep you awake.
- Avoid moving air. If a ceiling fan, heater, or air conditioner blows toward your face while you're lying in bed, change that. Senior says his patients often say their coughing is worse when any air blows on them at night.
- Use a humidifier. These make the air moist, which may cut down on coughing. Cool-air humidifiers do that, and there's no hot steam that might be a burn risk. Clean the humidifier so mold doesn't grow. "Make sure it doesn't have water in it that's been sitting there forever," Cooke says.
- Suck on a lozenge. Some cough drops use a numbing ingredient, such as benzocaine, which can calm down a cough long enough to help you fall asleep, Senior says.
What Could Cause a Nighttime Cough?
There are many reasons you could be coughing. "Cough is a really common symptom," Senior says.
If you're coughing up mucus, you may have an infection like bronchitis, whooping cough, or pneumonia. So if you’re not getting better within a week, visit your doctor. Go sooner if you have a high fever plus other symptoms.
"If you're dealing with pneumonia, it's going to need medical intervention," says Aaron E. Glatt, MD, executive vice president at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre, NY.