Sleeping can be challenging when you have a cold. Symptoms like a stuffy nose can make it difficult to breathe, while coughing and muscle pain can keep you awake.
Yet, quality sleep is essential for recovery. Your body needs rest to get better.
Fortunately, there are ways to temporarily ease your symptoms and get the rest you need. Read on to learn more about how to sleep with a common cold.
A warm, steamy drink before bedtime may help soothe a sore throat, while the steam may loosen up your congestion.
If you’d prefer to stay away from tea, you can also sip on:
- hot water with lemon juice and honey
- hot soup
- low-sodium broth
Aim to drink a warm beverage about 60 to 90 minutes before you go to bed. Drinking liquids too close to bedtime may cause you to wake up to use the bathroom during the night.
If you’re feeling achy, an over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) can help. These medications can alleviate some cold symptoms, including headache, muscle aches, ear pain, and fever.
Common NSAIDs that are available without a prescription include:
As with any OTC drug, check the label for the recommended dosage. Follow the directions carefully.
If you have a fever, avoid using NSAIDs for more than 3 days in a row. Similarly, if you have pain, avoid using them for more than 10 days. See your doctor if your symptoms persist.
A nasal decongestant works by reducing swollen tissue in your nose, which, in turn, can decrease the production of mucus. This can make it easier to breathe, especially when you’re trying to sleep.
Nasal decongestants are available over the counter at drugstores. You can find them in the following forms:
- nasal sprays
Generally, nasal decongestants aren’t recommended for children ages 3 years or younger.
Avoid using decongestants for too long, as extended use may lead to rebound symptoms that can leave you feeling worse than before you started the treatment.
Coughing due to a common cold can keep you up all night and leave you feeling exhausted. An OTC cough medicine may help provide temporary relief.
If you have mucus, consider using an expectorant. This type of medicine loosens mucus in your lungs so it’s easier to cough out. Mucinex and Mucinex DM are two examples of expectorant cough medicines.
Another option is an antitussive, which suppresses the cough reflex. Antitussives may be ideal for nighttime relief. Robitussin DM is an example of an antitussive cough medicine.
Some cough medicines contain decongestants, pain relievers, and antihistamines. Due to the presence of these ingredients — which can be dangerous when taken in higher quantities — it’s best to avoid using other medicines when you take a cough medicine.
Gargling with salt water before bedtime may help soothe a sore throat and prevent an infection from getting worse. It’s a natural, low-cost way to ease discomfort.
To use a saltwater gargle:
- Mix 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. salt into 8 oz. warm water.
- Once the salt dissolves, gargle the mixture in the back of your throat for as long as you can tolerate it.
- Then swish the salt water around your mouth before spitting it out.
A saline rinse is a form of nasal irrigation that uses salt water, or saline, to flush your nasal passages. It’s important to only use sterile, distilled, or water that has been previously boiled. Tap water may contain harmful infection-causing organisms.
Saline rinses may be used with a:
- neti pot
- squeeze bottle
- nasal bulb
To use a saline rinse, the
- Start by leaning over a sink. Tilt your head sideways and try to keep your chin and forehead on the same level so the solution doesn’t drip into your mouth.
- Insert the spout of the saline-filled squeeze bottle, neti pot, or nasal bulb into your upper nostril. This will allow the solution to drain out of your lower nostril.
- Repeat this procedure. Tilt your head in the opposite direction and insert the saline solution into your other nostril.
The FDA doesn’t recommend nasal rinses for children under the age of 2 unless recommended by a pediatrician.
Lying down can make mucus build up in your throat, leading to coughing and restless nights.
This doesn’t mean you need to sleep sitting up, though. Simply stack your pillows to lift your head slightly. This can help minimize mucus accumulation in your throat.
Avoid using too many pillows, as this could lead to neck pain and discomfort. Just two standard pillows will likely help elevate your head enough.
A vapor rub is a medicated ointment that’s topically applied to the neck and chest. It often contains ingredients like:
- Eucalyptus oil. Cineole, the main component in eucalyptus oil, can loosen thick and sticky mucus.
- Menthol. Menthol has a cooling effect that may make it feel easier to breathe.
- Camphor. Camphor may suppress coughing and thin mucus.
Although these ingredients won’t treat your cold, they may help you breathe easier and sleep more comfortably.
Only apply vapor rub to your chest and throat area. Don’t use it inside your nose, as it can be absorbed into your body through the membranes inside your nasal passages.
Vapor rub may cause skin irritation in some people. Before using a new product, test it on a small patch of skin first.
Dry air can irritate your sinuses, potentially worsening your symptoms. A humidifier may help by adding moisture to the air.
According to research from 2017, humidifiers haven’t shown solid benefits for treating colds. But the added moisture in the air could help you breathe better.
Always use distilled or purified water in a humidifier. Change the water every day and clean it regularly to prevent bacterial and mold growth.
The steam of a hot shower may help thin out and drain the mucus in your sinuses, which can make it easier to breathe. A warm shower is also a great way to relax before bedtime.
Make sure the water is hot but comfortable. Keep the bathroom door closed to let the steam accumulate.
For a soothing spa-like experience, you may want to use aromatherapy shower tablets with peppermint or eucalyptus oil. When inhaled, the cooling effects of these ingredients may help you feel less congested.
Although alcohol can make you sleepy, it’s best to avoid it before bed. Drinking alcohol may disrupt your ability to get quality rest.
Plus, alcohol is a diuretic. It suppresses the antidiuretic hormone, which stops your kidneys from overproducing urine. When this happens, you will likely pee more often.
This can lead to dehydration, making it hard for your body to recover. Stay well hydrated by avoiding alcohol and drinking plenty of water instead.
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To create a comfortable sleeping environment, keep your bedroom between 60 and 67°F (15.6 and 19.4°C). To keep your room at this temperature, you can:
- Set your home’s thermostat so that it will stay between 60 and 67°F (15.6 and 19.4°C) while you’re sleeping.
- Open windows if the temperature rises, or turn on air conditioning.
- Run a fan near an open window to keep the air circulating.
Most cold symptoms last around 7 to 10 days. In some cases, you might have a hard time getting good quality sleep due to congestion, coughing, or a runny nose.
Fortunately, there are ways to help relieve your symptoms. Some options include medication, like NSAIDS, cough medicines, or nasal decongestants. Other options include natural remedies like warm beverages, saltwater gargles, a hot shower, or stacked pillows.
Depending on your symptoms, some tips might work better than others. If your cold gets worse or persists for more than 3 weeks, be sure to follow up with a healthcare provider.