How to sleep with a cough

How to sleep with a cough

When a cold or the flu strikes, sometimes a good night’s sleep is all you crave. However, if you are struggling with a chesty cough, dropping off is not always easy. Not being able to get comfortable due to a sore throat or simply being jerked awake by your cough each time you start to drift off is not only frustrating, it can also slow down the speed at which you recover, impacting the amount of rest your body needs to fight off the illness.

Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to get a good night’s sleep when you are wrestling with a cough. Keep reading to find out more. 

Can you cough in your sleep?

To put it simply, no – you cannot cough while in deep or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. However, you can cough (and sneeze) while you are in a light sleep, commonly known as dozing. This is because your body must be in a state of full or semi wakefulness in order to cough. For this reason, if you have a persistent cough, and/or are experiencing regular bouts of sneezing, this can lead to a bad night’s sleep and subsequent daytime fatigue. This can also prolong your period of recovery as your body may not be getting enough rest to adequately fight off the infection causing your cough.  

How to sleep better when you have a cough

When a night-time cough and sore throat keeps you from sleeping, there are things you can try to help you drift off. These include:

Elevate your head

Although it’s simple, this tip is incredibly effective. Sleeping flat on your back or side allows excess mucus (typically caused by infection) to build up in your throat, triggering a cough[1]. To avoid this, it can be a good idea to elevate your head and neck using stacked pillows while you sleep. However, it’s important not to elevate your head in a way which places your neck in an unnatural or uncomfortable position, as this could cause neck pain and muscle injury. 

Drink honey and lemon before bed

A hot beverage before bed can be a great way to soothe a sore throat and loosen up mucus that has built up. While herbal tea and even soup are all good options, traditionally warm water with honey and lemon is your best bet. This is effective because honey contains a number of natural properties that help to fight infection and reduce swelling, while lemon juice can soothe irritated throats and cut through congestion[2,3]

To make this drink, simply mix one teaspoon of honey and one tablespoon lemon juice together in a mug of boiling water. As you would with a cup of tea, allow it to stand and cool for a few minutes before drinking. It’s also a good idea to finish your drink at least one hour before bedtime.

Keep lozenges nearby

Sucking on a throat lozenge an hour before heading to bed is a great way to soothe your throat and break down any mucus build-up that may have formed. Some lozenges, including Chloralieve’s Mint Throat Lozenges, even contain a mild local anaesthetic called lidocaine, which can numb throat pain, and amylmetacresol – an antiseptic that helps to fight infection. Remember to always finish the lozenge before lying down in bed, as this could be a choking hazard. 

Humidify the room

One cause of night-time coughing, sore throats and dry mouth is dry air. Using a humidifier in the room while you sleep, especially if you like in an area with a dry climate, can restore moisture to the air you are breathing in as you sleep, preventing your throat from drying out. This, in turn, can help to prevent bedtime coughing.  

Stay hydrated

Making sure you are taking in fluids and staying hydrated is key when you are feeling ill. Drinking throughout the day helps to keep your throat lubricated and can wash away irritants that trigger coughing fits. With this in mind, as a rule, you should aim to drink between six and eight good-sized glasses of water over the course of the day, making sure you stop an hour before you go to sleep. This is to prevent necessary bathroom trips from waking you up. It is also a good idea to keep a glass of water by the side of your bed in case you need to lubricate your throat during the night[1].