Common Cold and Problems Sleeping

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When you have a cold, struggling to sleep can add insult to injury. A blocked nose and cough are symptoms (among several) that often keep people awake, but they can be alleviated by following these tips. Get a good night's sleep with a cold so you can get the rest you need to feel better faster.

Choose the Best Sleeping Position

Many people make the mistake of stacking on an extra pillow when they are unable to sleep with a cold. This may cause your head to sag forward, worsening breathing problems. The best thing to do is use a foam wedge that lifts your upper body (but at an angle) and helps the nasal passages to drain. A similar effect can be created by layering pillows to form a triangle shape.

If you wake with one side of your nose blocked, shifting position will often help to clear it. Lying on your back may worsen a postnasal drip (accumulation of excessive mucus in the throat or at the back of the nose) so try and sleep on your side.

Maintain Good Room Temperature and Humidity

Don't be tempted to overheat the room because you have a cold. Keep the temperature at a comfortable level so that you don't perspire.

The humidity in a room is important too. Dry air can worsen the symptoms of a cold and parch your nose and throat. In dry climates or homes with central heating, use a humidifier to keep the air moist. Some people prefer to have a bedroom window open for fresh air.

Consider Medication

A common cold cannot be cured by medication, but its symptoms can be alleviated. The following groups of medicines can be used to ensure a more comfortable night's sleep with a cold:

  • Over-the-counter painkillers taken 30 minutes before going to bed will take away the aches and pains that often accompany a cold. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen are suitable choices.
  • Decongestant nasal sprays used shortly before going to sleep can clear nasal passages and allow for easier breathing. These should only be used for a few days, as overuse can cause inflammation and worsen the problem.
  • Cough syrups taken shortly before bedtime can suppress a cough and dry up a postnasal drip. Make sure you choose the correct syrup for your symptoms, as some are formulated for dry coughs while others work on chesty coughs.
  • Cold and flu medications often contain decongestants and antihistamines as well as some kind of pain relief. It can be helpful to take a dose just before bed as the effects normally last for four to six hours. Some of these medications have night and day formulas. The night formula causes drowsiness, which can help you to sleep better with a cold.

Be sure to read labels closely; taking two or more medications at the same time may not be advised.

Colds are unpleasant and most people suffer from at least one a year. Knowing how to sleep with a cold can help you rest easier at night and feel more refreshed in the morning.

Written by: Debbie Roome

Sources: Mayo Clinic. Common Cold. Available at: Accessed: May 9, 2011 Medicinenet. Making Sense of OTC Cold and Cough Medications. Available at: Accessed: May 9,2011

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 14 Jun 2011

Last Modified: 17 Nov 2014