Allergies, colds, the flu, and other common causes of a stuffy nose can make sleeping difficult, or even impossible.
A person might wake dozens of times feeling as though they cannot breathe, or they might struggle to fall asleep amid the pressure of congestion.
Sleep is vital for healing infections. A 2015 study even found that better sleep may reduce the risk of getting a cold in the first place.
Several strategies can prevent a stuffy nose from ruining a good night’s sleep. To get the most relief, people can try several strategies at once. The sections below discuss these strategies in more detail.
1. Elevate the head
Congestion tends to be worse at night because it is harder for the nose and sinuses to drain.
This means that mucus pools in the head, making it harder to breathe and potentially causing a sinus headache in the morning.
Try elevating the head on a few pillows to help the sinuses drain more easily.
Some people also find relief by sleeping on a recliner or couch.
2. Use a humidifier
A dry nose can feel sore and more sensitive to mucus. Humidifiers moisturize the air, preventing excessive dryness and reducing the pain of breathing while congested.
Some people like to add essential oils, such as peppermint or eucalyptus, to the humidifier.
It is important to clean humidifiers regularly, as moisture can promote the growth of bacteria and fungi. It is best to read the machine’s instructions on cleaning and disinfecting it.
3. Keep supplies by the bed
Congestion is not the only thing that makes it harder to sleep with a cold. For many people, getting up for water or tissues can interrupt sleep all night.
Keeping a box of tissues, a wastebasket, and a bottle of water by the bed can make nightly interruptions shorter and more comfortable.
4. Eat honey
Having a stuffy nose can cause people to breathe through the mouth, leaving the throat dry and sore. When a person already has a cough or sore throat, this can make it difficult to sleep. Honey coats the throat, easing discomfort.
Honey may even work as a cough suppressant. A 2014 study compared honey with a placebo and the short-acting bronchodilator salbutamol in children with a common cold.
Honey was the most effective option for easing cough symptoms. Children may also be more willing to try honey than medications.
For people without honey allergies, the risk of side effects or negative reactions is very low.
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5. Take a steamy shower before bed
Hot steam may help open the sinuses. Steam loosens the dried mucus and can help the nose drain before bed, reducing pain and congestion.
Some people find that massaging the skin covering the sinuses promotes further drainage. Taking a warm shower before bed may also help a person relax before trying to sleep.
6. Use a saline rinse
A saline spray or rinse, which contains a small amount of salt mixed into sterile water, can help flush out congested sinuses. Saline rinses help relieve irritation and swelling, and they can also help a person feel less congested at night.
Saline rinses that do not contain medications are safe to use several times per night, so a person can try keeping a saline spray near the bed and using it whenever necessary.
7. Wear a nasal strip
Nasal strips attach to the bridge of the nose and pull the nostrils out slightly.
Although many people use nasal strips to prevent snoring, they can also make it easier to breathe when a person has a stuffy nose. Try sleeping with a nose strip until the congestion eases.
8. Use an over-the-counter steroid or decongestant nasal spray
Over-the-counter sprays can help ease inflammation or congestion due to allergies and infections. They are safe for short-term use and can offer rapid relief.
However, some decongestant nasal sprays use a substance that can cause a tolerance by the way they work. This can lead to rebound congestion if a person uses it for a long time and then tries to stop.
People should read and follow the instructions on the packaging, including the maximum amount of days in a row that they can use it for. A person should never take more than the lowest possible effective dosage.
Steroid sprays help relieve inflammation, which can help reduce congestion and irritation in the nasal passages. They are available over the counter as well as with a doctor’s prescription.
Do not use steroid nasal sprays in children unless a doctor recommends it.
9. Try cold and flu medicines
Using cold and flu medicines with decongestant and other ingredients can make it easier to breathe. They may also help with other symptoms, such as achy muscles and headaches.
People should be careful to avoid non-drowsy “daytime” products before bed, as these may make it harder to sleep. Conversely, it is generally best to avoid “nighttime” products when a person needs to be awake, because these will likely cause drowsiness.
Avoid combining multiple medicines, and do not give babies or children decongestants unless a doctor recommends it.
When to see a doctor
The common cold often causes a stuffy nose. Antibiotics and other medications will not cure the cold virus, so there is little a doctor can do.
It is best to drink plenty of fluids and sleep or rest as much as possible to give the body time to recover.
Symptoms of a common cold can last between 2 days and 2 weeks. People with the flu usually recover within a weekTrusted Source, but some symptoms can last for 2 weeks or longer.