How to Sleep With a Cold

Three Parts:Taking MedicationsTreating the Symptoms with Home RemediesAdjusting Your Bedroom

When you're sick, the last thing you want to do is toss and turn all night. Unfortunately, with the combination of medicine and congestion, you may do just that. Nonetheless, if you make a few adjustments, you should be able to get a more restful night's sleep when you have a cold, which in turn may help you get over the virus quicker.

Part 1
Taking Medications

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    Take a nasal spray decongestant. Decongestants help clear out your airways, making it easier to sleep. As an added bonus, nasal sprays work only on your nose, so they won't make you jittery or keep you awake like some oral medications can.[1]
    • Avoid oral drugs like Benadryl and pseudoephedrine after 6:00 p.m. until you know how they affect you. For instance, pseudoephedrine can make you jittery, keeping you up.[2] However, if you know Benadryl makes you sleepy, feel free to take it at night to encourage deep sleeping.
    • Antihistamines like Benadryl are not always that effective against colds, though they can help if you have allergies in addition to a cold. Some experts suggest that antihistamines like brompheniramine and chlorpheniramine are more effective against colds.[3]
    • You should only use nasal spray decongestants for a couple of days, as overuse can increase inflammation of your mucous membranes. Once you know what nasal decongestants make you sleepy or at least don't keep you awake, you can switch to a pill.[4]
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    Try a nasal strip. Nasal strips open up your nasal passage ways, which lets you breathe easier during the night.[5]
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    Take a pain reliever. Simple acetaminophen is effective at reducing your temperature if you have a slight fever and relieving pain from a sore throat or blocked sinuses. This increased comfort will help you rest easier.[6]
    • When taking acetaminophen, check any cold medication you are also taking to see if it also contains this pain reliever. Taking too much acetaminophen can cause liver damage, and you may not realize you are already taking some if you are not reading the labels.[7]
    • You may be tempted to take Tylenol PM while you have a cold. However, Tylenol PM contains diphenhydramine, which is Benadryl.[8] As noted above, you shouldn't take Benadryl at night until you know how it affects you. Also, if you do take Tylenol PM, make sure you aren't double-dosing by taking Tylenol PM along with another medication with diphenhydramine or an antihistamine in it.
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    Try a cough syrup. If you have a dry cough, which can sometimes accompany a cold, you can use a cough syrup with a cough suppressant such as dextromethorphan.[9]
    • If you have a wet cough, meaning you are producing mucus when you cough, talk to your doctor, especially if it's keeping you up.[10]
    • Cold medicines and cough syrups like Nyquil combine some of the above ingredients. For instance, Vick's Cold and Flu Nighttime Relief Liquid has a cough suppressant, acetaminophen, and an antihistamine.[11] Therefore, read labels so you aren't taking the same medicine twice. Also, make sure you know how this medication affects you before you take it at bedtime so it won't keep you up.

Part 2
Treating the Symptoms with Home Remedies

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    Jump in the shower before sleeping, and take some deep breaths. Not only will the hot water relax your muscles, but also the hot steam breaks up congestion, allowing your sinuses to drain. In turn, you won't sniffle as much through the night.[12]
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    Eat some chicken soup or drink a hot beverage. The steam from food has a similar effect to the shower, providing some relief from congestion. In fact, your mother may have been correct in making you chicken soup for supper when you were sick, as some studies have shown it can be more effective at clearing out your nasal passages than hot water alone.[13] Additionally, drinking fluids and eating soups keeps you hydrated, which helps with congestion.[14]
    • Avoid caffeinated drinks before bed, as they can keep you awake.
    • Drinking certain teas, like chamomile, can also help you relax, encouraging you to drift off to sleep easier.[15]
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    Try saline spray. Saltwater can clear out your sinuses. You can either use a neti pot to pour saltwater into your nose or use a saline nasal spray from the pharmacy to spray the water into your nose.[16]
    • If creating the saline solution yourself, be sure to use sterilized or distilled water to help prevent infection. You can also boil it yourself.[17]
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    Use menthol in a gel form. While rubbing mentholated gel on your chest does not necessarily open up airways, it can make you feel like your breathing easier due to the cooling effect.[18]
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    Use saltwater to gargle. Saltwater can relieve throat pain for a short period of time, letting you drift off more quickly. Simply dissolve 1/4-1/8 teaspoon of salt into water, and gargle with it for 30 seconds to a minute. Be sure not to swallow the water.[19]

Part 3
Adjusting Your Bedroom

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    Raise the head of the bed with wedge pillows. Create a slight incline with the pillows, raising the top half off your body about half a foot. Because this position reduces blood flow to your head, your nasal passages will be less inflamed, letting you breathe better.[20] It can also help relieve sinus pressure.[21]
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    Use a humidifier. Humidifiers can ease congestion when you have a cold. Humidity in your house should be between 30 and 50 percent. If it's drier, you can run a humidifier in your bedroom to help raise the humidity.[22]
    • To measure the humidity in your home, purchase a hygrometer from a hardware store. Some humidifiers come with this feature, so you can also measure the humidity that way.[23]
    • Keep your humidifier clean for the most benefits. Use distilled water, and make sure to change the water out often, as well as put in a new filter periodically. Also, be sure to clean out the humidifier twice a week. Dirty humidifiers can increase bacteria in the air.[24]
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    Hide the light. That is, make sure all light sources are snuffed out, from using dark curtains for the windows to covering your alarm clock. Light tells your brain to wake up, so extinguishing these sources can help you sleep.[25]
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    Maintain a comfortable room temperature. Make sure your room is not too hot or cold, as that can make your restless or wake you up. Some experts recommend between 65 degrees and 72 degrees for sleeping.[26] When you have a cold, you might lean more towards the warmer side but don't make your room too hot.[27]
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    Try essential oils. Essential oils like lavender and chamomile can relax you. Add a few drops to a spray bottle with water and spray your pillow before bedtime.[28]


  • Take decongestants that make you drowsy at night, rather than during the day.
  • Keep extra blankets around, as colds can make you run a light fever.[29]
  • Leave a glass of water by the bed to help soothe your throat if you wake up coughing.
  • Make sure you have a bucket nearby if you feel like you're going to throw up.
  • Mints/mint gum can help clear a congested nose, just don't fall asleep with either of them in your mouth or you could choke.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Colds and Viruses