A cough can worsen at night, when you’re lying down. Natural remedies for stopping a nighttime cough include raising the head and taking honey. But some causes will need medical treatment.
Nighttime coughing can start as an annoying twinge in your throat and then escalate into a full-blown hacking fit that keeps you awake. It can disrupt your sleep and affect how you feel during the day, too.
This article explores why nighttime coughing happens and gives you some tips on how to stop it.
Coughing is the body’s way of ridding the lungs and airways of invaders, explains Liana Casusi, MD and consultant for Oh So Spotless. “It’s a reflux reaction caused by irritants like dust, smoke, pollution, or mucus, entering the body,” she says.
Wet cough vs. dry cough
Medically speaking, Casusi says that there is no certain way to pinpoint the cause of a cough just by describing it as dry or wet.
“Also known as a productive cough, a wet cough brings out mucus, while a dry cough or nonproductive cough doesn’t,” she says. “Both types of cough can be caused by infections, structural lung disease, or airway inflammation from irritants.”
Coughs can also result from viral or bacterial respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, whooping cough, and croup.
These infections can cause inflammation that increases and thickens the natural mucus in the body. This extra mucus leads to coughing.
Asthma and allergies can also cause coughing due to inflammation, she says.
Other common causes include:
- taking certain medications
- heart failure
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- lower or upper respiratory infections
- lung disease
- damage to vocal cords
- sleep apnea
People who smoke have a higher risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. COPD can cause coughing due to the destruction of lung tissue.
Coughing is a natural mechanism the body uses to remove unwanted substances in the airways. Stopping a cough when it happens will not provide a long-term solution. The main thing is to address the underlying cause.
Below are 20 tips on addressing the underlying cause of coughs.
1. Avoid allergens
Avoiding allergens like dust and pollen can help prevent coughing in people with allergies and sensitivities.
If you’re not sure whether you have an allergy, you might consider consulting with a healthcare professional like an allergist or trying out an at-home allergy test.
What is a hay fever cough like?
2. Rid your home of dust
Keeping your home clear of common allergens like dust, dust mites, and pollen can help lower the risk of coughing.
Tips to help keep irritants at bay include:
- vacuuming regularly
- washing curtains and linen frequently
- swapping carpeting and rugs for solid floors
- getting blinds instead of curtains
3. Use air filters to allergy-proof your bedroom
A HEPA air filter can help mite-proof your bedroom.
Other strategies include:
- using allergy covers for pillowcases, duvets, mattresses, and box springs to help reduce and prevent dust mites
- washing bedding in hot water once per week
- keeping pets out of the bedroom
4. Manage asthma
Asthma causes airways to become narrow and inflamed. A dry cough is a common symptom of asthma.
If your cough feels dry and you sometimes have a hard time breathing, consult with a doctor or another healthcare professional. You may need a prescription inhaler to treat asthma.
5. Shut windows
This can help lower the chance of coughing when pollen counts are high or when there’s a lot of dust blowing around.
6. Avoid polluted areas when possible
Exposure to pollution is a common trigger for coughing.
According to the World Bank Group, over 90 percent of the global population is exposed to polluted air every year, so avoiding polluted areas altogether will be tricky.
But if you have a persistent cough, consider checking the Air Quality Index at AirNow.gov to see if you need to take extra care.
How can you improve your air quality at home?
7. Tackle GERD
GERD is a chronic cause of acid reflux and nighttime coughing.
Tips for managing the symptoms of GERD include:
- seeing a doctor about medications
- following medical advice a healthcare professional provides
- keeping a food diary to help identify foods that make symptoms worse
What are some natural remedies for GERD and acid reflux?
8. Incline your bed
Lying down makes it easier for stomach acid to flow back into your esophagus. So it’s best to wait at least 2.5 hours after eating to lie flat. It may help to raise the head of your bed 6–8 inches.
People with GERD aren’t the only ones who can benefit from sleeping at an incline. Raising the head at night can help manage many types of cough.
It’s easier for irritants to make their way to your throat to trigger coughing when you’re lying down.
Ways of doing this include using wedge pillows or investing in an adjustable mattress or bed.
9. Exterminate cockroaches
The saliva, feces, and body parts of cockroaches can cause coughing and other allergy symptoms.
Prevent cockroaches in your home by:
- keeping food containers sealed so they’re unattractive to cockroaches
- removing piles of newspapers and magazines that attract dust and give cockroaches places to hide
- hiring an exterminator to eliminate an infestation
10. Use a humidifier
Dry, warm air can dry out your throat and airways and make you more prone to coughing fits. Many people notice their cough worsens around the time they turn their heat on in the winter.
Running a humidifier that produces a cool mist can help keep the air in your bedroom and throat moist.
11. Seek treatment for a sinus infection
Sinus infections can cause postnasal drip, especially when lying down. This can tickle the back of your throat and lead to coughing.
Prescription antibiotics can help clear up a sinus infection and stop both the drip and the cough.
12. Use a neti pot
A neti pot is helpful in washing out the nasal passages, which can help relieve congestion. But be sure to follow the instructions carefully, as incorrect use may
Learn how to use a neti pot safely.
13. Eat honey
“Ingesting 2 to 3 teaspoons of honey before bedtime may help loosen mucus in your throat,” says Casusi.
Another option is to mix 2 teaspoons of honey into a caffeine-free tea, such as herbal tea.
However, never give honey to children younger than 1 year due to the risk of botulism.
Can you use honey for a sore throat?
14. Sip lemon juice
Lemon juice has anti-inflammatory properties. Mixing a little in water might help relieve a cough, as long as you do not have GERD, according to Casusi.
Alternatively, combine several helpful ingredients in a tasty hot drink with lemon juice, ginger, warm water, and honey.
15. Try pineapple
Try eating pineapple or drinking pineapple juice.
16. Gargle salt water
Gargling with a saltwater solution can help clear out airway congestion and help stop coughs due to asthma, allergies, and infections.
To make a saltwater gargle, mix a half teaspoon of salt into 8 ounces of warm water.
17. Take decongestants for a cold
The common cold can cause coughing.
There’s no cure for a cold, but rest and plenty of fluids can help you feel better.
If your cough is severe and you are an adult or a child older than 6 years, decongestant sprays and cough medications may help.
What are some cold and flu home remedies?
18. Try an over-the-counter medication
Over-the-counter (OTC) cough remedies can deal with coughing in several ways. Cough suppressants lessen the urge to cough, while expectorants thin mucus and make it easier to cough up.
Ask a pharmacist to help you choose a medication that suits your cough.
Learn about cough suppressants and other medications for coughs and colds.
19. Get your shots
Vaccines to prevent flu and COVID-19 can help prevent these viral infections, both of which can cause coughing.
20. Avoid tobacco smoke
A chronic cough is a common side effect of long-term smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke.
Quitting smoking or asking smokers to smoke outside can improve your cough and your overall health.
Talk with a healthcare professional if you smoke and need help to quit.
Most coughing does ease up in time, but severe and persistent nighttime coughing can be a sign of a serious condition, such as:
- heart failure
- lung cancer
A severe or persistent cough needs medical attention.
You should also get medical help if you have a cough and:
- a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or above
- shortness of breath
- swelling in your legs, ankles, or abdomen
- chest pain
- increasing amounts of phlegm
- blood in phlegm or coughing up blood
Other tips about getting medical help include:
- seeing a doctor if you have a persistent cough that does not go away or gets worse
- seeking help if a cough disrupts your sleep, daily life, and overall well-being
- following any treatment plan as the doctor recommends
- completing any course of antibiotics for a bacterial infection, even if your symptoms improve
- going back to the doctor if any medications seem to make the cough worse
Many of the same things that cause a daytime cough can also cause a nighttime cough.
But a cough may worsen at night due to your sleeping position, the quality of bedroom air, and exposure to lint, dust, pollen, and mites from bedding.
Whatever the cause, various home remedies and lifestyle measures can help relieve a nighttime cough, such as:
- using pillows to raise your head
- inclining your mattress
- investing in a humidifier
- washing bedding and vacuuming floors frequently
- keeping windows shut at times of high pollen or air pollution
If they don’t help, you may need to take OTC medication or seek medical help for prescription cough medication or for an underlying condition.
If you need help finding a primary care doctor, check out our FindCare tool here.