How to Sleep With a Cold


Written by Dr. Michael Breus

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Medical Disclaimer: The following content should not be used as medical advice or as a recommendation for any specific supplement or medication. It is important to consult your healthcare provider prior to starting a new medication or altering your current dosage.

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One of the most important aspects of recovering from illness is getting restful sleep. Unfortunately, congestion and a runny nose can make falling and staying asleep difficult. We will discuss whether it is possible to sleep off a cold, and share tips for sleeping better when you are sick.

In our video below, Dr. Breus offers some easy, helpful tips on how to get sleep when you’re sick with a cold.

Can You Sleep Off a Cold?

There is a reason why we tend to feel an increased urge to sleep when we fall sick. Quality sleep helps the body prepare its defenses, whereas sleep deprivation negatively impacts the immune system. Evidence suggests that going short on sleep leads to a higher chance of developing the common cold. Similarly, sleeping during a cold is an important part of recovery.

How to Sleep With a Cold

Adding some extra steps to your regular sleep hygiene routine may help you sleep when you are congested.

Stay Hydrated

Drinking plenty of water throughout the day can help ease symptoms of nasal congestion. Remember to stop drinking liquids about one hour before your bedtime to prevent nighttime bathroom visits that interfere with sleep.

Breathe in Steam

Gently inhaling steam or using a humidifier during sleep may also help relieve symptoms of a stuffy nose so you can breathe more comfortably. Be sure not to let the air get too damp, and stop using the humidifier if you notice it aggravates symptoms of allergies or asthma.

If you do not have a humidifier, try taking a warm shower right before your bedtime. Not only does this provide warm steam, but taking a warm shower before bedtime also helps naturally prepare your body for sleep by regulating your core body temperature.

A humidifier during sleep may help relieve symptoms of a stuffy nose so you can sleep more comfortably, but be sure not to let the air get too damp and stop using the humidifier if you notice it aggravates allergies or asthma.
Dr. Michael Breus

Keep Your Head Elevated

To improve the sensation of congestion in your nose and mucus accumulation in the throat, avoid placing your head completely horizontal when you are lying in bed. One way to do this is to stack pillows underneath your head, or elevate the head of your bed if you have an adjustable base.

Drink Warm Tea With Honey

Many people find it soothing to drink herbal tea before bed, and certain caffeine-free options such as chamomile may help improve sleep quality. Adding honey may help reduce the urge to cough, without the side effects of cough medicine.

Use Cough Medicine

When home remedies fail to provide relief, many people turn to medication such as cough suppressants to reduce coughing, or expectorants to help cough more productively. Cough medication can be a suitable option if it helps you sleep more soundly, but even over-the-counter medications should be used with caution and should not be given to young children. It is important to speak with your doctor prior to using cough medicine or other remedies, like nasal sprays.

When to Talk to Your Doctor

It is common to experience a cold once in a while. Symptoms usually go away on their own and do not require a trip to the doctor. However, you might want to consider paying a visit to your healthcare provider if your symptoms last for more than two weeks or if you suspect your symptoms could be due to something other than the common cold.

About The Author

Dr. Michael Breus

Clinical Psychologist, Sleep Medicine Expert

Michael Breus, Ph.D is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. He holds a BA in Psychology from Skidmore College, and PhD in Clinical Psychology from The University of Georgia. Dr. Breus has been in private practice as a sleep doctor for nearly 25 years. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is also the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan, Good Night!, and Energize!

  • POSITION: Combination Sleeper
  • TEMPERATURE: Hot Sleeper

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