This Is The Best Sleep Position For When You Have A Cough

There is nothing worse than getting into bed after a long day of feeling ill and not being able to rest because of one of the symptoms of your illness — a cough. Just when you think you've drifted off, you're woken up again with a rattling cough. If you've ever struggled with a cough, you may have noticed that it gets worse at night. Before going into that, however, it's important to establish the difference between a dry cough and a wet cough. Coughing accompanied with mucus buildup is a wet cough (also called a productive cough) and one without is called a dry cough. 

There are different explanations for why coughing worsens at bedtime, the primary reason being a postnatal drip. Unlike when you're standing up or sitting upright, mucus doesn't drain well when you're lying down. It goes down the back of your throat rather than coming out of your nose like it usually would when you're up and about (via Sleep Foundation). This is called a postnatal drip.

The expert-recommended sleep position for a wet cough of this nature is to keep your head elevated when you go to bed. Prop your head up with a few extra pillows (while paying attention to neck strain) so that your head and chest are elevated. This will prevent mucus buildup in your throat. Alternatively, you can try sleeping in a recliner chair which will give you a naturally elevated sleep posture. Keep in mind, however, that whatever position you choose, your quality of sleep is going to matter, especially when you have a cough.  

Why good sleep is important when you're sick

Sleep affects a lot of things in your body — how energized you are, how you age, and most importantly, your immune health. This is probably why you notice that you catch colds, coughs, and cases of flu around the time when you haven't been sleeping that well.  

Even with a cough, sleep becomes important if you want to get better soon, according to family medicine physician, Dr. Elizabeth Rainbolt (via Cleveland Clinic)."Your body needs time to heal, you need to be able to get rest. And if you're constantly coughing, you're interrupting your sleep cycles and you're not going to be able to get rest to heal. It becomes a troublesome pattern." The recommended hours of sleep for adults when they're sick is not different from the general guidelines for sleep — 7-9 hours. 

Touching on some of the other reasons why a cold or dry cough becomes worse at night, your sleeping environment could be to blame too. Dust mites in your bedroom or bedding could be triggering your allergies, the air in your room might be dry, you might be experiencing heartburn from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or you might just be noticing your cough more because you don't have any distractions. Certain medications (like blood-pressure pills and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs), and smoking can make coughs worse at night too. Dry coughs brought on by GERD, asthma, or allergies could be better relieved if you sleep on your side. With GERD, this sleeping position makes sure your stomach acids don't float up to your throat and cause irritation. 

Other nighttime things you can do to get relief from a cough

Taking a warm shower where steam naturally decongests your nose and throat or filling a sink with hot water and inhaling the steam can do wonders for a cough. Just be careful not to burn any parts of your skin with the hot water. 

You can also try consuming some honey before bedtime. For children over 1 year and adults, honey is a safe home remedy owing to its antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties (via Sleep Foundation). In fact, according to a 2013 study, 1 1/2 teaspoons of honey at bedtime proved to be an effective natural remedy for relieving symptoms of upper respiratory infection in children. It is not recommended, however, that children below the age of 12 months consume honey. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infant botulism is a concern here. 

Taking a look at your sleep environment and making changes there can also help. If the air is too dry, try plugging in a humidifier. Just make sure the water you're using is distilled and clean. If you think your cough might be due to allergens, try changing your bedding and using dust-mite-proof bedding. Also, keep your pets off the bed. Warm liquids like herbal teas, decongestants or nasal sprays, and lozenges are some other things you can try. If your cough doesn't ease up in 10 days or gets worse accompanied by other symptoms like chest pain, bloody mucus, vomiting, and difficulty breathing, that's when you should be concerned about your cough. Go see your doctor if this happens.