person sleeping

How can you get the rest you need when a stuffy nose and hacking cough make sleep hard to come by?

  1. Prop yourself up. Sinus pressure gets better when your head is higher than your body, so let gravity work for you. When you lie down, postnasal drip can build up, making your throat sore and triggering a cough. Make a wedge with a few pillows to prop yourself up in bed. You may breathe and sleep a little easier.
  2. Use a vaporizer or humidifier. Flu and cold symptoms dry your airways out and make them raw. Moisturize the air with a humidifier or vaporizer. Be sure to clean it regularly -- check the directions -- so it doesn't trap mold or bacteria.
  3. Drink or eat something hot. Breathing the steam from hot soup or drinks can help your dried-out nasal passages, loosen mucus, and make it easier to clear your airways. Add some honey to soothe your throat and help with coughing. Take a hot bath or shower before bed.
  4. Try cold and flu medicines. There are lots of over-the-counter nighttime medicines for cold and flu symptoms, so make sure you read the labels carefully. Match your symptoms with the right meds. If you're not sure what's right for your symptoms, ask your pharmacist.
  5. Don't drink alcohol. Sure, it may make you drowsy. But it actually makes people wake up more during the night. Alcohol can also dry you out, swell your sinuses, and react badly with cold or flu medicines. Wait until you're feeling better.
  6. Sleep alone. When you're sick, it may be better to sleep away from your partner. That way, you won't risk spreading the sickness. And you can cough, blow your nose, and get out of bed without waking someone else up.
  7. Can't sleep? Get up. Try something else. Sit in a chair and read for a little while. Listen to music. Then get back into bed when you feel sleepier.

Show Sources

Photo Credit: RyanSebastyan / Getty Images


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Carnegie Mellon University: "How Stress Influences Disease."

Cohen, S Archives of Internal Medicine, Jan. 12, 2009.

Norman H. Edelman, MD, chief medical officer, American Lung Association; professor of medicine, Stony Brook University Medical Center, Stony Brook, NY.

Harvard Medical School: "Sleep and Health."

National Sleep Foundation: "Myths and Facts," "There's No Place Like Home for Sleep According to New National Sleep Foundation Poll."

Paul, I. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, December 2007.

Donald R. Rollins, MD, associate professor, National Jewish Health, Denver.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Federal Occupational Health: "Let's Talk: Stress Can Make Your Body Say Uncle."