12 Tips for Nighttime Cough Relief

12 Tips for Nighttime Cough Relief

Calming Nighttime Cough: Tips and Insights for a Restful Sleep

Coughing at Night

Having a cough can be incredibly frustrating, but it becomes even more bothersome when it interrupts your sleep. The constant coughing can impact your ability to relax, fall asleep, and get the rest your body needs to recover. Not to mention, it can worsen your symptoms, leaving you feeling even more uncomfortable throughout the night.

According to Dr. Vontrelle Roundtree, associate chief medical officer at MDLIVE of Evernorth, coughing during sleep can compromise the quality of your rest. “Our immune systems produce cytokines, which are signaling proteins that fight off pathogens like viruses and bacteria,” Dr. Roundtree explains. “If you frequently wake up due to a cough, it can disrupt the regulation of cytokines, making it harder for your immune system to combat sickness and recover.”

In addition to affecting your recovery from illnesses, coughing can lead to other symptoms that further disrupt your sleep. Dry throat and mouth, as well as postnasal drip, can make your sleeping experience less peaceful, says Dr. Roundtree.

Why Coughing Can Be Worse at Night

Nighttime coughing can occur for various reasons, including issues with the lungs, airways, and even acid reflux. Dr. Samuel Mathis, an assistant professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch, explains that lung infections and postnasal drip can cause coughing to worsen during the night. When lying down, the cilia in our lungs (tiny hair-like structures) can more effectively move mucus out of the lungs. Consequently, coughing becomes the body’s response to clear excess mucus.

Postnasal drip, which occurs when nasal secretions pool in the throat, can also make nighttime coughing worse. Dr. Roundtree explains that moving during the day helps our bodies naturally clear trapped mucus. However, when we lie down to rest at night, it becomes more challenging for our bodies to clear the mucus, thus leading to a nagging cough.

Aside from these reasons, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or acid reflux can contribute to nighttime coughing. When stomach acid flows back into the esophagus and irritates its lining, it can reach the throat and induce coughing. “Lying down can worsen reflux, exacerbating the cough,” says Sarah McBane, PharmD, associate dean of pharmacy education at the University of California, Irvine School of Pharmacy. To alleviate GERD-related coughs, Dr. McBane recommends elevating your body at an incline to prevent mucus from pooling and disrupting sleep.

Heart failure, sleep apnea, and even certain medications, such as ACE inhibitors used for high blood pressure, can also lead to nighttime coughing, according to Dr. Mathis. Moreover, our body’s circadian rhythm, the internal clock regulating our sleep and immune response, may play a role in nighttime coughing. “Some parts of immune function are more active during the nighttime and early morning hours,” says Dr. Roundtree. While this natural response aids in fighting off bacteria, the increased activity may cause symptoms like congestion, fever, and heightened coughing.

12 Tips for Calming Nighttime Coughing

When it comes to managing nighttime coughing, the approach depends on the severity and underlying cause of the cough. Dr. Roundtree advises seeking medical attention if your cough is persistent, severe, or accompanied by concerning symptoms. However, for milder cases, consider the following expert tips:

  1. Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of fluids helps loosen mucus, making it easier to expel.
  2. Herbal tea with honey and lemon: A nighttime herbal tea with honey and lemon can soothe coughs caused by respiratory infections, allergies, and postnasal drip.
  3. Take honey: Honey serves as a natural cough suppressant and reduces coughing frequency and severity.
  4. Cough drops: These can provide temporary relief by soothing an irritated throat and suppressing cough.
  5. Steamy shower: Taking a steamy shower before bed adds moisture to the air, opening up airways and loosening nasal secretions.
  6. Dietary considerations: Avoid heavy, spicy, fatty, and late-night meals, especially if GERD is the cause of your cough. Opt for high-fiber, water-rich, and alkaline foods instead.
  7. OTC medications for GERD: Over-the-counter options such as antacids or acid-blocking medications can help alleviate reflux-related coughing.
  8. Antihistamines: These can be beneficial for coughs due to postnasal drip related to allergies. They dry up nasal mucus, reducing irritation in the throat.
  9. Elevate your head: Raising the head of your bed by 4-6 inches can prevent stomach acid from flowing into your throat, helping reduce GERD-related coughing.
  10. Use a humidifier: If the cough stems from dry air, a humidifier can add moisture to the environment and alleviate symptoms. Be mindful of maintaining humidity levels around 40-50% to avoid exacerbating coughs or increasing infection risks.
  11. Reduce allergens: Minimize the presence of allergens in your home by regularly cleaning, dusting, and investing in HEPA filters.
  12. Consider OTC medication: When other methods fail, over-the-counter cough medicine can provide relief, but it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional beforehand.

When to Seek Medical Attention

If the above tips do not alleviate your cough, or if it persists for more than a couple of weeks, seeking medical advice is recommended. Dr. McBane advises consulting a doctor if you experience persistent coughing or if the cough is accompanied by chest pain, nausea, wheezing, or high fever. Dr. Mathis adds that coughing up blood, having shortness of breath, or experiencing swelling in the legs or feet warrant medical attention as well. Identifying the underlying cause of your cough and receiving appropriate treatment is crucial for effective management.

Getting a good night’s sleep is essential for overall well-being, and persistent nighttime coughing can disrupt your sleep cycle. By following these tips and being mindful of potential causes, you can calm your cough and enjoy a restful night’s sleep. Remember, if your cough persists or becomes concerning, consult a healthcare professional for guidance.