A stuffy nose can keep you up at night, but it doesn’t have to. Read on to learn what you can do during the day, in the evening, and at bedtime to soothe your symptoms so that you can get the sleep your body needs to recover.
Taking steps to improve your nasal symptoms is crucial. Some of these tips can be used any time, including before bed. It’s up to you to decide which techniques and remedies best fit your needs.
1. Resist the urge to blow your nose
It’s normal to reach for the tissues when you have a stuffy nose. But blowing your nose isn’t actually recommended. Why?
Research has shown that it generates excess pressure in the nasal cavities that could cause fluid from your nose to go into your sinuses.
Instead of blowing, use a tissue to dab at a runny nose. If you absolutely must blow your nose, opt for one nostril at a time and blow gently.
2. Use acupressure
To target pressure in your sinuses, use your left and right index fingers to press on the base of either side of your nose. Hold for about three minutes.
For sinus headaches, press your fingers into the innermost corner of either eyebrow for three minutes.
3. Stay hydrated
When mucus is too thick, it can stick in your nose, aggravating congestion. Drinking enough fluids loosens mucus, which helps drain your sinuses.
If you have a cold, you should aim for a minimum daily fluid intake of around 11.5 cups (for women) to 15.5 cups (for men). You may need to drink more if you’re experiencing fever, vomiting, or diarrhea.
4. Eat something spicy
Capsaicin is a chemical compound found in chili peppers. It has a thinning effect on mucus. Foods containing capsaicin might offer mild, temporary relief of nasal congestion. However, capsaicin also stimulates mucus secretion, which could make your nose runnier.
Hot sauces, curries, and salsas typically contain capsaicin. You should avoid spicy food if you already have an upset stomach.
5. Take a decongestant
Decongestants are a type of medication. They relieve congestion by reducing swelling in the blood vessels in the nose.
Decongestants are sold over the counter as nasal sprays and oral medications. You don’t need a prescription to buy them, although you might want to consult a pharmacist or doctor if you have another medical condition or are taking other medications.
Decongestants are often combined with painkillers (analgesics) and antihistamines for maximum effect. Some daytime varieties include caffeine and may keep you awake.
6. Take a NSAID
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) relieve inflammation and pain.
There is no evidence that NSAIDs can effectively treat cough symptoms related to a runny nose. However, studies have shown that NSAIDs may be effective in treating other cold symptoms, such as:
- ear pain
- joint and muscle pain
Some NSAIDs are available without a prescription. Common types include ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), naproxen (Aleve), and aspirin. Stomach acid pain is a common side effect.
7. Use menthol lozenges
When triggered, menthol receptors in the nose create the sensation that air is passing through. Though menthol doesn’t actually relieve nasal congestion, it can make breathing feel easier.
8. Say no to alcohol — especially after 2 p.m.
If you already have a stuffy nose, drinking can make it worse. For approximately 3.4 percent of people, consuming alcohol triggers upper respiratory symptoms such as sneezing and a blocked or runny nose.
Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it increases urine production. When you drink, it’s more difficult to stay hydrated. When you’re dehydrated, your mucus is thicker and can’t drain as easily.
Alcohol can also have a negative impact on sleep. If you’re sick, it’s best to avoid alcohol altogether.
9. Avoid caffeine after 2 p.m.
Caffeine is a stimulant found in tea, coffee, and soda. It can give you an energy boost when you’re feeling under the weather, but it may have a mild diuretic effect.
So, if you’re having difficulty staying hydrated with fluid, you don’t want to risk anything that could add to the potential of becoming dehydrated and forming thick mucus.
Caffeine and sleep don’t mix, either. According to a study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, having caffeine up to six hours before bed can result in disruptive sleep.
10. Keep pets out of the bedroom
As sweet and loving as they may be, your pets may have a negative effect on the air quality in your bedroom. Cat and dog dander are common allergens that can trigger allergy symptoms, including congestion.
While it may take effort to keep your pets out of your room, it can help you breathe easier at night.
These time-tested remedies can help you relieve congestion and wind down for the night.
11. Eat chicken noodle soup
Your grandmother’s cold remedy might have something to it. Research suggests that chicken soup may have medicinal benefits, including a mild anti-inflammatory effect.
12. Drink hot tea
Tea has antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. While there isn’t any evidence that tea clears up nasal stuffiness, research has shown that hot drinks can improve how people feel about their cold symptoms.
13. Gargle with salt water
Doctors recommend gargling with salt water to relieve throat pain. Although it’s not a cure, it can help flush out a virus.
Saltwater gargling is inexpensive and easy to do. Simply mix 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt in an 8-ounce glass of warm water and gargle as needed.
14. Try a facial steam
Steam loosens the mucus in your nasal passages, improving congestion. The easiest way to make your own facial steam is to run hot water in your kitchen or bathroom.
To do this, fill your sink with warm water. Place a towel over your head (to trap the vapor) and lean over the sink. As the steam builds, inhale deeply. Take care not to scald your face on the water or steam.
15. Or take a hot shower
Hot showers may also provide temporary relief from congestion by thinning out mucus. Turn your shower to a hot — but still comfortable — temperature.
Make sure to close the door to your bathroom so steam can gather. Once steam has collected, take a few deep breaths to clear up your sinuses.
16. Use a saline rinse
There is evidence that saline (saltwater) rinses, sometimes known as nasal irrigation, can improve congestion and related symptoms.
A neti pot is a small container used with a saltwater solution to rinse mucus from the nose and sinuses. Other saline rinses use bulb syringes, squeeze bottles, or battery-operated devices that pulse water through the nose.
When doing a saline rinse, it’s important to only use distilled water. You can also boil water and allow it to cool to room temperature. Always follow the instructions provided.
17. Use a corticosteroid nasal spray
Corticosteroids are a type of drug that reduces inflammation. Corticosteroid nasal sprays (also called intranasal corticosteroid sprays) are used to treat inflammation-related congestion, runny nose, and sneezing.
They’re among some of the most effective medications for nasal symptoms, with mild side effects that can include dryness and nosebleeds. They’re available over the counter.
Before bed, take steps to promote relaxation and make your sleeping environment more comfortable. Medication, nasal strips, and chest rubs can help with your symptoms.
18. Take an antihistamine
Most drug stores sell antihistamines. Drowsiness is a common side effect of certain types of antihistamines, so these are best taken before rest times. If you’re concerned about side effects, speak to your pharmacist.
19. Diffuse an essential oil in your bedroom
Essential oils might help improve sinus congestion, but there aren’t enough reliable studies to know for sure.
A review found that tea tree oil has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, which suggests it might help with nasal congestion.
Another study investigated the effects of a primary component in eucalyptus oil, called “1,8-cineole.” Taking cineole in capsule form was found to improve sinus symptoms.
Peppermint oil contains menthol, which can make you feel like it’s easier to breathe.
You can use a diffuser to disperse essential oils in your bedroom.
20. Use a humidifier in your bedroom
Dry air can irritate the throat and nasal passages. If the air in your bedroom is too dry, a humidifier can help. You’ll need to clean it regularly to avoid bacteria and mold growth.
21. Keep your bedroom cool and dark
When you’re sick, small things can keep you from getting much-needed sleep. For example, you might feel more sensitive to fluctuations in light or temperature.
Keep the temperature in your bedroom cool and opt for light covers. Use blackout curtains to ensure outside light doesn’t affect your sleep.
22. Apply a nasal strip
Nasal strips help to open the nasal passages to improve breathing. They may also improve breathing when the nose is blocked due to congestion.
You can buy nasal strips at most pharmacies. Follow the instructions on the package to apply the nasal strip to your nose at bedtime.
23. Apply an essential oil chest rub
You can use essential oils to make your own chest rub. Eucalyptus, peppermint, and tea tree oil are a few examples of essential oils believed to have cold-fighting properties. Make sure you dilute your essential oil mix with a carrier oil to prevent skin irritation.
24. Apply a menthol chest rub
Over-the-counter chest or vapor rubs are applied to the neck and chest. They often contain menthol, camphor, and/or eucalyptus oil. Chest rubs don’t cure nasal symptoms, but they can improve your sleep.
25. Prop up your head so you remain elevated
Sleeping with your head elevated can help drain mucus and relieve sinus pressure. Lay on your back and use an extra pillow to prop up your head.
Although most people can treat a stuffy nose at home, certain groups should see their doctor for diagnosis. This includes:
- adults age 65 and older
- people who have a compromised immune system
Even if you’re not in one of these groups, you should see your doctor if your symptoms last for more than a week or get progressively worse.
You should also see your doctor if you experience:
- difficulty breathing
- a high fever
- yellow or green nasal discharge with sinus pain or fever
- bloody or pus-like nasal discharge