It’s late. You’d like to be sound asleep — but every time you begin to drift off, a cough jolts you awake again.
A nighttime cough can be disruptive and frustrating. You need to sleep so you can get the rest you need to fight your illness and function during the day. But your nagging cough won’t let you get the elusive sleep you so badly need.
So, what can you do to conquer your cough at night?
In this article, we’ll look at some possibilities you may want to consider for different types of coughs, including wet and dry coughs and those ticklish back-of-the-throat ones.
A cough can be caused by a wide variety of conditions and circumstances. If you understand the cause of your cough, it may be easier for you to choose an effective remedy.
These conditions and factors are all known to cause coughing:
- viruses like colds and flus
- bacterial infections like pneumonia and bronchitis
- postnasal drip
- certain medications, such as ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, and some nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD)
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- cystic fibrosis
- whooping cough
If you’re not sure why you’re coughing, your doctor can order chest X-rays, lab tests, scope tests, or CT scans to find out what’s triggering your cough.
Talk to your doctor about getting a whooping cough vaccination, and if you smoke, know that quitting may improve your cough in as little as 8 weeks.
Wet coughs, which are sometimes called productive coughs, often involve excessive mucus in the chest, throat, and mouth. The following tips may help.
Tips for a wet cough
- Elevate your head and neck. Sleeping flat on your back or on your side can cause mucus to accumulate in your throat, which can trigger a cough. To avoid this, stack a couple of pillows or use a wedge to lift your head and neck slightly. Avoid elevating your head too much, as this could lead to neck pain and discomfort.
- Try an expectorant. Expectorants thin the mucus in your airways, making it easier to cough up phlegm. The only Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved expectorant in the United States is guaifenesin, which is marketed under brand names like Mucinex and Robitussin DM. If your cough is caused by a cold or bronchitis,
studiesshow that guaifenesin can be a safe and effective treatment.
- Swallow a little honey. In one
2013 study, 1 1/2 tsp. of honey at bedtime helped some coughing children sleep more soundly. Note that the study was based on parent surveys, which aren’t always an objective measurement.
- Drink a warm beverage. A steamy, warm beverage may help soothe a throat that’s become irritated from coughing, and also loosen up mucus. Warm water with honey and lemon, herbal teas, and broths are all good options. Be sure to finish drinking any beverage at least an hour before bedtime.
- Take a hot shower. Steam from a warm shower may help loosen mucus in your chest and sinuses, clearing your airways.
The following tips may provide relief.
Tips for a dry cough
- Try a lozenge. Throat lozenges can be found at drugstores and retailers, and they come in an assortment of flavors. Some have menthol to help open up your sinuses. Some contain vitamin C, and some include medications that can soothe a sore throat. Whichever one you try, be sure to finish the lozenge before you lie down so you don’t choke on it. Avoid giving lozenges to young children as they can be a choking hazard.
- Consider a decongestant. Decongestants can help dry up the postnasal drip that can cause that nagging nighttime cough. Don’t give decongestants to children younger than 12, as they can cause serious complications.
- Look into a cough suppressant. Cough suppressants, which are also known as antitussives, prevent coughing by blocking your cough reflex. They can be helpful for dry nighttime coughs, as they may stop your cough reflex from being triggered while you sleep.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated is especially important when you’re feeling under the weather. Drinking fluids throughout the day can help keep your throat lubricated, which can help protect it from irritants and other coughing triggers. Aim to drink at least 8 glasses of water a day. Just be sure to stop drinking fluids at least an hour before bedtime to avoid bathroom trips during the night.
If your cough is being caused by allergies or postnasal drip, you may be kept awake by an itchy or ticklish cough. Here’s what you can do.
Tips for a ticklish cough
- Use a humidifier. Air that’s too dry can irritate your throat and send you into a flurry of coughing. One word of caution: Be careful not to over-dampen the air. Allergens like dust mites and mold can worsen in wet air, and asthma can sometimes be exacerbated by dampness. To make sure the humidity level in your sleeping space is at or near the recommended level of 50 percent, consider using a hygrometer to measure the exact level of moisture in the air.
- Keep your bedding clean. The American Academy of Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology recommends that you wash your sheets, mattress covers, blankets, and pillowcases in hot water, at 130°F (54.4°C) or higher, once a week. If you’re allergic to pet dander or pet saliva, it might be best to get your cuddles during the day and keep pets out of your bedroom at night.
- Try an oral antihistamine. Talk to your doctor about whether your cough would respond to an over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medicine that blocks your body’s production of histamines or acetylcholine, both of which stimulate coughing.
In most cases, a cough that’s caused by an infection or irritant will usually clear up within a few weeks with home remedies or OTC medication.
But there may be times when a cough is more serious. It’s important that you pay a visit to your doctor if:
- your cough lasts longer than 3 weeks
- your cough turns from dry to wet
- you’re coughing up increased amounts of phlegm
- you also have a fever, shortness of breath, or vomiting
- you’re wheezing
- your ankles are swollen
Seek immediate medical attention if you have a cough and:
A nighttime cough can be disruptive, but there are many effective treatments available to lessen their severity and duration so you can sleep more peacefully.
If your cough is caused by a cold, the flu, or allergies, you may be able to ease your cough by trying some simple home remedies or by taking OTC cough, cold, or allergy medications.
If your symptoms last longer than a few weeks or your symptoms worsen, follow up with your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.