How to Sleep When You Have a Cold

6 Min Read | By Gemma Curtis

Last Modified 11 July 2022   First Added 21 February 2019

This article was written and reviewed in line with our editorial policy.
The common cold is caused by a viral infection of the nose and throat. A healthy adult may have two or three colds a year. And children may even have more – which is not surprising to hear considering the time they spend playing together at school. Colds are easily passed on, but they are generally nothing to worry about.

Why can’t I sleep with a cold?

When you have a cold, you usually feel generally unwell alongside the normal symptoms of a blocked nose, sore throat, and headache. But the physicality of lying down can make those symptoms feel worse.

While you may experience excess mucus during a cold, your blocked nose is caused more by inflamed blood vessels inside your nasal passageways. When you lie down, your blood pressure changes and the position means that more blood will rush to the top half of your body. This increase can inflame the blood vessels inside your nose, making your nasal passages smaller. You will, therefore, feel more congested, making it difficult to breathe.

You also struggle to clear mucus from your nose and sinuses when you are lying down. This is because when you’re sitting up or standing, gravity will naturally make mucus run down your nose or to the back of your throat to be swallowed. This is normal and happens every day but is more noticeable when ill. When you’re lying down, mucus can pool in the throat, causing you to feel ‘bunged up’ or making you cough. This is also known as post-nasal drip.

tissues with mug and glasses

7 tips to help you sleep with a cold

Here are 7 ways to help soothe your cold symptoms so you can get the best night’s sleep possible:

1. The best position to sleep with a cold

To help you snooze when you’re feeling stuffy, try sleeping on your side and use pillows to prop yourself up. This will help alleviate postnasal drip building up, stop your nose from feeling blocked and help you to breathe more easily. Use a few pillows and ensure your neck isn’t bent at an awkward angle when you lie down. Healthline recommends just using two pillows whilst sleeping.

2. Take medication

If you have a fever, blocked sinuses, or congestion, taking the right medication can help relieve symptoms allowing you to feel relaxed and settled before bed. Always read the description to try to match the medication to your symptoms rather than taking ‘catch-all’ tablets. Steer clear of medications which have caffeine in them – these will usually be labelled ‘non-drowsy’ – as these will keep you awake.

shower head

3. Have a hot shower before bed

Studies have shown that taking a bath or shower with enough time to cool down can help induce sleep. As well as feeling relaxed and ready for bed, the steam from the shower will help to open your nasal passages and clear your airways. Take some deep breaths with your face close to the water to loosen any dried mucus and help you breathe more clearly.

tea

4. Drink herbal tea

Keeping with the steam theme, drinking a hot beverage, or having soup can help open your nasal passages in the same way as a shower. Before bed, try some soothing tea like chamomile, mint, or lavender. These don’t contain caffeine and will help you to feel calm before bed.

5. Optimise your sleep environment

The temptation to blast the heating, wrap up in layers and cover yourself in blankets is all too high when you’re unwell. However, you’ll most likely wake up sweating and uncomfortable, struggling to breathe in the middle of the night if you do this. According to Sleep.org, the best temperature for sleep is 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit (15-20 degrees Celsius).

Use a vaporiser or humidifier if you’re struggling to breathe. This will moisturise the air and stop your nose and throat from feeling dry and sore. Ensure to clean it regularly or mould and bacteria can build up inside, causing more sickness in the future.

6. Try not to toss and turn

If you’re lying in bed and can’t get to sleep after 10 or 20 minutes, get up and do something soothing like reading a book, some gentle yoga practise or meditation. Once you feel sleepy you can get back into bed where you should quickly get a more restful sleep.

7. Soothe a sore throat

To soothe a sore throat before bed, try gargling with salt water. Not only can it ease pain naturally, but it’s also low-cost and prevents any infection from worsening. Sounds great, right! Here’s how to gargle salt water effectively:

  1. Mix half a teaspoon of salt into a glass of warm water
  2. Wait until the salt is completely dissolved
  3. Next, take a mouthful of the mixture and gargle it in the back of your throat for as long as possible
  4. Spit the salt water out and do not swallow
  5. You can repeat the process as many times as you want.

Is it dangerous to sleep with a blocked nose?

Sleeping with a cold and a blocked nose is nothing to be worried about, in fact, it is quite common, especially in the winter. It may be uncomfortable and cause disturbed sleep but, we’re sure that making a few adjustments to your sleep routine will ease your symptoms. If your cold and nasal congestion gets worse after a week and you start to notice discharge, a high fever, and difficulty breathing, Healthline advises to always consult your doctor for professional medical advice. These could be signs of something more serious than a common cold.

Can sleep cure a cold?

If you’re trying to find a solution for how to cure a cold fast overnight, sadly there is no miracle! However, getting good quality sleep can aid the recovery process and is a vital step in helping to cure your cold.

According to Neelam Taneja-Uppal, MD, ‘sleep helps your body to fight the infection that’s causing you to feel ill’. It’s no secret that during sleep, your body recovers and repairs everything that’s happened during the day. Sleep also allows your body the time and space to recover from illness while resting your body.

How to prevent catching a cold

Catching a cold is nothing to worry about however, if we can avoid it, then why not! Let’s save our restless nights tossing and turning with a blocked nose and follow the steps below to avoid a cold:

  1. Wash your hands regularly with warm water and soap
  2. When leaving the house, always carry hand sanitiser, just in case a sink is not available to wash your hands
  3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth – to prevent a virus from entering your body
  4. Stay fit and healthy so your body can fight off a virus
  5. Regularly disinfect surfaces in your home this includes door handles, light switches, and taps
  6. Stay away from people suffering from a cold – this may seem obvious but it is vital to remember.

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