Surely you have noticed that coughing tends to get worse at night – just when you need to get enough sleep to rest and feel better. This article explains why this happens and how to solve this problem.
To treat colds, including coughs, health experts recommend drinking more, taking medication if necessary, and getting plenty of rest. But when it comes to resting, this is easier said than done, as coughing often keeps you up all night.
According to the Mayo Clinic, rest is one of the most important tools for fighting infections. Ironically, proper rest can also be the most difficult task. You know the scenario: you lie down in bed after a long day and find yourself unable to stop coughing. When you need to sleep the most, coughing symptoms increase, leading to nighttime toss and turn and therefore sleep deprivation.
What science says about a cough that gets worse at night
Why does the cough get worse at night? There are a number of reasons why this happens – or at least why it seems so.
- Gravity. The number one factor that makes coughing worse at night is simple: gravity. Mitchell Blass, M.D., physician at the Georgia Department of Infectious Diseases, says, “When we lie down, mucus automatically starts to accumulate.” The best way to counteract this gravitational pull is with altitude. “Sleep on a high pillow,” suggests Dr. Blass. “This will help prevent mucus from building up in the back of the throat.”
- Dry indoor environment. Dry air can aggravate an already irritated nose and throat, making nighttime coughs worse. To help relieve coughs associated with dry air, you can try installing a humidifier in the room to hydrate the air and make breathing easier.
But pay attention to this: “Humidifiers are not always safe,” Blass warns. “If the water you put in is not sterile, you run the risk of spraying germs and catching other diseases.” And people with a cold or the flu are the least likely to need complications. “Bacterial infections can occur. Many flu-related deaths are caused by pneumonia, which occurs after people think they have already had the disease.” To use your humidifier safely, carefully follow all instructions that come with it.
How to deal with a nighttime cough
When it seems like you can’t sleep, follow these guidelines:
- Cough drops. Before going to bed, suck on a lozenge for a cough or sore throat.
- Drink more fluids. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids during the evening before bed – fluids help thin the mucus in your throat, and warm fluids can also soothe irritation.
- Eat honey. Adding honey to warm liquids like water or tea, or simply drinking a scoop or two of pure honey, has been shown to help clear up a cough quickly, says Stephen Russell, MD, a physician at the University of Alabama at the Birmingham Department of Medicine and an expert in areas of the upper respiratory tract.
- Try cough medicine. “Cough medicines usually contain antihistamines that make you sleepy,” Dr. Russell explains.
But due to too many possible side effects, even doctors recommend that you first study natural remedies, and if they do not help you, start using pharmaceutical cough medicines with caution.