When you’re overcoming the cold or flu, you can get trapped in a hellish cycle of needing sleep to recover, but losing sleep due to lingering symptoms. Even after your cough has disappeared during the day, it often creeps back at night — making you (and everyone else in your household) miserable. Here’s what to know about why your cough persists during the nighttime, and what you can do to find some relief.
Why we cough more at night
The reason your cough returns in full force when it’s time for bed is most likely due to postnasal drip, which often accompanies a cold or flu, allergies, and sinus infections. Postnasal drip is when more mucus than normal runs down the back or your throat instead of coming out of your nose. It’s what makes it feel like you need to constantly clear your throat (or hack up a lung). This means that it’s not the sun going down that makes your cough worse; it’s you lying on your back.
Tips to curb your coughing
Although the following tips might not eliminate your cough immediately, they should help you find some relief. All tips are science-backed and compiled from the Sleep Foundation and the National Library of Medicine. These tips are for adults over young children, and assume you are a non-smoker. (If you smoke, the first step to cure your cough is to stop smoking.)
Sleep on an incline
If postnasal drip is the culprit behind your cough, then try propping up your head and neck with some pillows. Also try sleeping on your side, since lying flat on your back only helps the mucus run straight down your throat (not ideal).
Tea and honey
Before buying cough medicine, consider tried-and-true home remedies. Warm liquids like tea or soup help loosen mucus to decrease your stuffiness and make it easier to swallow with a sore throat. The warm temperature is what provides the relief, so don’t fret over the choice between chamomile and peppermint tea.
A spoonful of honey will also provide relief. One study even found honey was more effective at curbing nighttime coughs than common over-the-counter cough suppressants. Add honey to your tea, or mix a tablespoon or two into a glass of warm water.
Steam and humidity
While dry air is harsh on your sinuses, steam provides much-needed moisture to your airways. Take an extra hot, steamy shower right before bed or run a humidifier throughout the night.
OTC cough medicine
With over-the-counter know that suppressants lessen your urge to cough, while expectorants thin mucus and make it easier to expel. But when you’re shopping around cough medicine, remember that coughing serves a purpose. The Sleep Foundation points out that some medical experts caution that overuse of cough suppressants could impact how long a person takes to recover. In other words, too much cough medicine could make your cough take longer to do its job.
If you find that cough medicine helps you sleep, then it may be worthwhile to use it in moderation (keeping in mind the potential side effects). And for a dry cough, a cough drop or lozenge may be enough to calm the cough reflex so you can fall asleep.
A prescription for antibiotics
Another reason for your cough could be a sinus infection (which in turn cause postnasal drip). Head to a healthcare professional and get prescription antibiotics to clear up the infection.
When to talk to a doctor
A cough from the cold or flu typically lasts about seven to 10 days. If your cough or cold symptoms persist beyond this timeframe or feel particularly severe, it might be time to consult a medical professional.
If your cough is made worse by asthma, seasonal allergies, or other conditions, you may also need to treat these conditions to help relieve your cough.
Finally, as I’ve advised before: If you’re looking for tea recommendations, I swear by ginger turmeric. It’ll soothe your cough and soothe your soul.
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