8 Tips for Nighttime Cough Relief
R. Morgan Griffin
Melinda Ratini, DO, MS
Nighttime coughs can be sleep-wreckers. The key is to soothe your ticklish throat and over-sensitive airways before you go to bed.
Drink herbal tea with honey. Get into the habit of having a mug of non-caffeinated tea before bed. “Any warm liquid can help break up mucus in your airways,” says Norman H. Edelman, MD, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. Add a little honey.
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Sleep on an incline. When it comes to nighttime cough, gravity is your enemy. All the postnasal drainage and mucus you swallow during the day backs up and irritates your throat when you lay down at night. Try to defy gravity by propping yourself up on some pillows while you sleep.
Another trick for people with acid reflux is to stick wooden blocks under the head of the bed to raise it 4 inches. With that angle, you might keep acids down in your stomach where they won’t irritate your throat. Of course, you’ll have to get your partner’s OK first.
Use steam cautiously. Dry airways can make your cough worse. You may find relief from taking a shower or bath before bed — or just sitting in a steamy bathroom. Edelman has one caution: “If you have asthma, steam can actually make a cough worse.”
Watch the humidity. Humidifiers can help coughs if the air is dry. But too much moisture in your bedroom can keep you coughing, too. Dust mites and mold — both common allergens — thrive in damp air. Edelman suggests that you keep humidity levels at 40% to 50%. To measure humidity, pick up an inexpensive device — a hygrometer — at your hardware store.
Prepare your bedside. In case you start coughing in the night, have everything you need by your bed — a glass of water, cough medicine or drops, and anything else that seems to help. The sooner you can stop a coughing fit, the better. Continually coughing irritates your airways, which can make your nighttime problem last longer.
Keep bedding clean. If you have a cough and are prone to allergies, focus on your bed. Dust mites — tiny creatures that eat dead flakes of skin and lurk in bedding — are a common allergy trigger. To get rid of them, each week wash all your bedding in hot water, Edelman says.
8 Tips for Nighttime Cough Relief
Consider medicine. Over-the-counter cough medicines can help in two ways. An expectorant can help loosen mucus. A cough suppressant blocks the cough reflex and reduces the urge to cough. Look carefully at the label to make sure you get the medicine that’s right for your cough. Ask your pharmacist or doctor if you’re not sure.
See your doctor. If you’ve had a nighttime cough for longer than 7 days, it’s time to check in with your doctor. It may take some time, but together, you and your doctor can figure out the cause — and make your nights peaceful again.