The Best Position to Sleep with a Cough

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Sleep with a Cough

Ranking alongside things like being itchy or having an earache, there is hardly anything more maddening than trying to get some sleep while you’re busy hacking up a lung. Or, at least that’s the way it can feel at the time. Whether your coughing is the result of smoking, being sick, or reflux issues, we will teach you the best positions to sleep with a cough. You will finally be able to get the shuteye you need to thrive.

How To Get Better Sleep With a Cough

Elevate Your Head 

There are multiple reasons sleeping with your head elevated is useful for reducing a nighttime cough. It helps to:

  • Discourage breathing through the mouth, which can dry out your mucosal passages and irritate the lining of your throat. It also reduces the oxygen intake of your lungs and can making snoring or apnea problems worse. When you lie flat, it is more likely that gravity will encourage your mouth to open and aggravate this problem. 
  • Stop post-nasal drip. Post-nasal drip sufferers often experience night-time coughing due to the tickling sensation it creates on the back of the throat. It’s important to sleep with your head slightly raised so that the “drip” is not aimed at such a bothersome angle.
  • Relieve symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). During particularly bad COPD flair-ups it can seem impossible to breathe at all, let alone sleep. COPD is an umbrella term for chronic conditions like bronchitis and emphysema, which flatten the diaphragm and make breathing difficult. Sleeping on an incline makes it easier for the muscles of the neck and chest walls to help carry oxygen to the lungs.
    • Alleviate congestion. If you have a cold or sinus issues, there is an added pressure in your airways which can make lit difficult to sleep with a cough, much like those with COPD. And similar to nasal drip, having your head above your body assists in mucus drainage so it doesn’t collect and cause you problems, like easing the urge to cough.
Sleep position to Alleviate congestion

It might take some getting used to, but simply adding an extra pillow (assuming you already use one) will usually suffice to lift your head enough to benefit. If your pillows are on the smaller side, you might have to add a couple more.

Lie on Your Side

Even though laying on your back may seem like the best option when you’re trying to breathe comfortably, it can actually exacerbate pretty much every problem on the list above. So, if you’re suffering from a cough back-sleeping not going to be a comfortable way to go. You may have some luck if you are capable of sleeping almost upright, like leaning against the headboard of your bed, but otherwise lying on the side is your best bet. 

Laying on your stomach is likewise inadvisable due to the pressure it inadvertently puts on your spine and neck. Your lungs also lose some of their oxygen capacity when on your stomach (the same is true when on your back). 

So that leaves us with side-sleeping. Laying on your side will make it easier to sleep with a cough. However, there are some things to take note of there, too. 

gastroesophageal reflux disease

For example, those suffering from acid reflux (GERD) shouldn’t sleep on their right side. We mentioned acid reflux already as a potential instigator of a persistent cough, but more specifically gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a condition defined by Web MD as:

“a digestive disorder that affects the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the ring of muscle between the esophagus and stomach. Many people, including pregnant women, suffer from heartburn or acid indigestion caused by GERD.”

Sleeping on the left side is thought to aid digestion and the body’s natural elimination process, minimizing the amount of harmful acids from the stomach that go splashing back up into the throat that cause discomfort and coughing. It’s easy to assume our organs operate much like the way we look on the outside, symmetrical. The truth is, they follow a completely different, and lopsided, blueprint. When sleeping on the left side, the stomach remains lower than the esophagus which is why it’s thought to help prevent the splash-back of gastric juices.

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Other Tips to Help Sleep With a Cough

    • Keep your sheets pillows, and blankets clean. In fact, you should keep the entire room you sleep in well wiped down. There’s no point in making an already frustrating cough worse by inhaling dust, pet hair, and debris that can collect unnoticed in your bedding and trigger allergies.
    • Invest in a humidifier. Particularly helpful for those suffering from congestion and/or dry cough, a humidifier will keep a balanced level of moisture in the air to help you breathe. The humidifier will make it easier for you to sleep with a cough. Just be careful to not turn the settings up too high – too much humidity isn’t good for you either. 
    • Consider over-the-counter medications. If you’re sick, these can help alleviate your symptoms long enough to doze off as well as tackling any additional discomforts, like a fever. If you aren’t sick, it can still be helpful to pop an antihistamine or even a night-time cold medication to temporarily clear up your airways and encourage you to sleep, although this is not recommended as a habit.
    • Plan a visit to your Doctor. Not sure why you’re coughing so much at night? You could have asthma. It’s very common for asthma to go undiagnosed, especially when it doesn’t show up until adulthood. Asthma causes swelling and inflammation in your airway linings, as well as narrowing due to the increase of muscular contractions. It also causes the production of thicker mucus. There are different treatments for asthma, and you will most likely be prescribed an inhaler for acute attacks as well as a corticosteroid for long-term treatment. Both with help you get the sleep your body needs.

Want to know more?

If you want to learn more about optimizing sleep, or other ways to improve your health and overall wellbeing, head on over to our Blog! We also invite you to sign up for our free 30 Day Newsletter, where we send you a simple and easy tip or piece of advice every morning to help you improve your quality of life.

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