Coughs that nag you all day long are bad enough. But when they keep you awake all night, you can feel downright awful. How can you calm down your cough so you can get the sleep you need?
You’re in luck. There are plenty of treatments for nighttime coughs that can help. Most of the time, home remedies or over-the-counter (OTC) treatments can work wonders. But if those don’t help, your doctor can prescribe a stronger cough medicine that includes something to make you drowsy.
How to Calm That Cough
Start with simple solutions to see if they stop the hacking:
- Use a humidifier to make the air moist, or breathe steam from a hot shower or teakettle before bed.
- Raise your head up a bit with an extra pillow.
- Try a saline or saltwater nose spray.
- Swallow a teaspoon of honey. (Note: This is not for babies younger than 1 year old.)
- Sip warm tea or soup.
- Suck on menthol or honey lozenges before bedtime.
If you need stronger relief, pharmacy shelves are full of OTC cough or cold remedies you can try to stop a cough. These products may have a mix of different types of medicine in one capsule or pill:
- A cough suppressant. It works by blocking your reflex to cough. Dextromethorphan is the most common one.
- A decongestant like phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine to clear your stuffy nose or sinuses
- An antihistamine, like brompheniramine, chlorpheniramine, diphenhydramine, or doxylamine, to stop your sneezing and runny nose
- A drug that thins out your mucus, called an expectorant
But be aware: These cough treatments make some people feel drowsy, but they make others feel hopped up so they stay awake. And some of them aren’t safe to take if you have health problems, like high blood pressure. So check with your doctor before you buy one.
Nasal sprays with or without a steroid may help ease your cough, too.
What Causes Coughs?
When you have a cold, a sinus infection, or the flu, mucus can drip from your stuffy nose or sinuses into your throat when you lie down to sleep. That’s why you may cough more at night. You may feel the drip tickle the back of your throat and want to cough to clear the clog.
But other conditions can also cause a cough that keeps you awake:
- Asthma. Air tubes in your lungs get narrow and close up, and too much mucus can build up. People with asthma can also have dry coughs because they don’t take in enough air when they breathe. Dust can make the problem worse.
- Allergies. Hay fever or other allergies can give you a stuffy nose that drips into your throat.
- Heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Stomach acid can trickle up and bother nerves in the lower part of your esophagus, the tube that connects your mouth and stomach. This can make you cough, even if you don’t feel a burn or pain.
- Smoking. Mucus in your lungs can make you cough. You may also feel the urge to cough to get the toxins out of your airways.
- Some blood pressure drugs. ACE inhibitors can trigger a dry cough that won’t quit for some people.
If your doctor finds that one of these problems is causing your cough, you’ll need to treat that specific condition to find relief. Talk to your doctor about the best plan.
Photo Credit: Monkeybusinessimages / Getty Images
Harvard Health Publications: “That nagging cough.”
Cardiff University Common Cold Centre.
National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Cough and Cold Medicine Abuse.”
MayoClinic.org: “Is it true that honey calms coughs better than cough medicine does?”
National Health Services UK: “Cough.”
Quit Smoking Community: “Smoker’s Cough: Why It Happens and How to Stop It.”