Most people find it difficult to sleep when they have a cold. Whether you have just a sniffle or the full-blown flu, the symptoms can make trying to get to sleep a nightmare. Here are some tips and tricks on how to sleep with a cold.

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 actually 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 our nose or to the back of our 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.

Sick girl with a cold in bed

How to sleep when you have a cold

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

Sleep sitting up

Using pillows to prop yourself up 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.

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 and match the medication to your symptoms rather than taking ‘catch all’ tablets. Steer clear of medications which have caffeine in – these will usually be labelled ‘non-drowsy’ – as these will keep you awake.

Have a hot shower

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.

Have some herbal tea

Keeping with the steam theme, drinking a hot beverage or having soup can help open up 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.

herbal tea and tea pot

Read more: 10 Sleep Relaxation Techniques You May Not Have Heard Of

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.

Don’t 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 practice or meditation. Once you feel sleepy you can get back into bed where you should quickly get a more restful sleep.

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 from everything that’s happened during the day. Sleep also allows your body the time and space to recover from illness while resting your body.

Read more about sleep problems.

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