Can’t Sleep Because of a Sore Throat or Cold?

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When you’re sick, you need sleep more than ever. But what happens if your cold or sore throat have made you so uncomfortable that rest seems impossible?

You’ve probably tried various tips and tricks to get some rest, and if you haven’t had any luck, you’re likely feeling sleep-deprived and frustrated.

Fortunately, we’ve put together this guide on how to sleep with a cold or a sore throat. It includes our top recommendations for medicinal and natural remedies as well as helpful tips to set up your bedroom as a sanctuary for sleeping.

How to Sleep Better with a Cold or Sore Throat

Take Medications

While medicine won’t cure the cold or a sore throat, it will ease the symptoms you’re experiencing and make the recovery process more comfortable. Before ingesting anything, read the labels carefully. For example, if you’re on your way to work, don’t take a nighttime relief medicine because it will make you drowsy.

Another helpful tip is to avoid daytime formulas after 6 p.m. Many of these brands have a stimulant effect, which could keep you awake and slow down your recovery.

Nasal spray decongestant

One of the benefits of a nasal spray decongestant is instant relief of a blocked nose without having to take medicine orally that could cause unanticipated side effects. Another reason that nasal sprays are at the top of our list is that they go to work on your stuffy nose immediately, unlike an oral pill that can take several minutes or up to an hour to kick in.

If you choose a nasal spray, make sure you only use it for a couple of days. Longer-term use can irritate the mucous membranes and cause inflammation.

Nasal strip

Nasal strips are cheap, effective, and drug-free! This simple strip sits across the bridge of your nose and works to lift the tissue around the nasal cavity. The result is a clearer airway and easier breathing.

Another reason these are so popular is because they help with snoring. People with colds often snore, and a nasal strip helps prevent it.

Pain reliever

For headaches and fevers, an over-the-counter pain reliever can provide much-needed relief. Aspirin and Tylenol contain acetaminophen, which is an effective fever-reducer.

As stated earlier, check the labels to ensure that you don’t take a daytime formula at night and vice versa.

One final note about pain relievers before we move on to the next tip. For children under two years old, we recommend that you do not give them any pain reliever with acetaminophen. According to the National Institute of Health, this drug is associated with cases of Autism Spectrum Disorder in toddlers because it crosses the blood-brain barrier in young children, creating toxicity levels that result in neurological damage.

Cough syrup

Coughing can be painful and also keep you awake. If you have a dry cough, then a cough suppressant in the form of cough syrup will go a long way toward helping you sleep better.

Again, check the label of your preferred brand. Some formulas contain acetaminophen and an antihistamine. If you’ve already taken medications with those ingredients, you should avoid doubling up.

Steamy Shower

A shower is a helpful strategy for falling asleep even when you’re not sick! It’s relaxing, and a perfect to end the day, washing off all the stress and struggles from work, school or family life.

It helps to relax your muscles, prepare you for bedtime, and could even help with decongestion, especially when you set the water temperature high for maximum steaming effect.

Eat Some Chicken Soup or Hot Beverage

Hot soup and beverages help with congestion, too. In fact, this method may be even more effective than the shower suggestion. Consuming liquids is also helpful when you’re sick to avoid dehydration.

Saline Spray

Saltwater has a magical, cleansing effect on nasal passageways. Make your own using water that’s either distilled or has been boiled to kill off any infection-causing bacteria. Then, we suggest using a neti pot, which looks like a miniature teapot.

Tilt your head to the side and pour the spout into one nostril. Make sure you’re near a sink or drain. Finally, watch in either disgust or delight as all the gunk from your nose spills out the other nostril and down the drain.

Here’s our recommended recipe:

  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 8 ounces warm water (either distilled or previously boiled)

Mentholated Gel

Menthol in a gel form is a magical cold remedy that moms swear by to help their families sleep better when they have a cold or aching throat. All you have to do to get the benefit is rub it on your bare chest, and it immediately goes to work. It also has a cooling effect, which is refreshing for those with fevers.

This probably goes without saying, but don’t eat it or put it up your nose. Also, it’s not recommended for children under two years of age.

Gargle with Saltwater

You already know that saltwater is ideal for clearing the sinuses. It’s also effective at dulling the pain of a sore throat. It works exceptionally well if you gargle with it at the first sign that you’re getting sick. The salt kills excess bacteria as well as providing numbing pain relief.

Our only caution with this technique is to avoid swallowing the water. Otherwise, you may feel nauseous.

Elevate Head

We recommend investing in a wedge pillow and using it to keep your head elevated when you sleep. Look for one that has a more natural and gradual incline, so that you’ll be able to use it for both back and side sleeping. We also like wedge pillows to sit up in bed and watch television, which is probably one of the only fun things to do when you’re sick.

Use a Humidifier

A humidifier can help you breathe easier, especially when you have a cold. They’re especially adept at easing congestion, making sleep come much faster.

If you use one of these devices, make sure you clean it regularly and use distilled water only. If a humidifier is not properly maintained, it can become a breeding ground for bacteria, which could make you sicker.

humidifier in room

Keep Your Room Dark

Bright lights keep you awake because they signal your internal clock that it’s daytime and time to get moving. When you want to get some sleep, turn out the lights, draw the curtains, and keep your bedroom as dark as possible.

Comfortable Room Temperature

The ideal room temperature for sleeping is between 65 and 68 degrees. You may be tempted to heat the room when you’re sick, but that’s not recommended. At the most, bump the temp up to 72, but don’t turn it into a furnace.

Essential Oils

Essential oils are like smartphone apps. There’s one for just about everything you can think of. Peppermint oil is widely considered headache aid, and lavender is ideal for relaxing and falling asleep.

Sleep on Schedule

Though it may be harder to fall asleep, it’s important to stay on a sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at your regular time, and feel free to extend your bedtime schedule by an hour or more if you need the rest. Not only does getting adequate rest help you recover from a cold more quickly, but it can also prevent you from catching one in the first place.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best position for those who have congestion and stuffy nose?

Side sleeping can help drain one side of your nasal passageways if one of them is more blocked than the other. We also suggest propping up your head with a wedge pillow to help drain the sinuses.

Back sleeping may also be comfortable but be careful about snoring. People tend to snore more when they’re on their backs, and when that factor is combined with congestion or a cold, it’s a surefire way to make it sound like you’re sawing logs. Again, a wedge pillow may help here.

woman is lying on wedge pillow

Why are colds worse at night?

You can blame hormones for this one. Throughout the day and night, our bodies maintain a balance of melatonin and cortisol. Melatonin is considered a sleep hormone, and cortisol is a stress hormone. Cortisol also works to fight infections. So, at night when melatonin levels rise to prepare the body for sleep, corresponding cortisol levels drop. The result is an exacerbation of cold and sore throat symptoms.

How to sleep with fever and chills?

The tips provided in this article apply to just about any type of illness. So, if you have fever or chills, follow the same advice, and you’ll increase your chances of getting a quality night of rest.

Why can’t I sleep when sick?

Even if you’re exhausted, sleep may be evasive when you’re sick. This isn’t all that surprising, especially if you feel like ten pounds of dung in a five-pound bag. The best thing to do to encourage your body to fall asleep is to make yourself as comfortable as possible, while also limiting sleep interruptions.

You may need a cough suppressant to prevent middle of the night coughing or a saline mix to gargle to ease throat pain.

Author: Jill Thompson

I've been self-employed for almost four years and I would not change it for anything! I believe that anyone can achieve their goals with the right attitude and determination.

I'm an avid traveler (25+ countries and counting) that loves to meet new people doing amazing things.

When I'm not researching for the Sleep Advisor, you can find me reading, running, traveling, golfing, or meditating.

I wish you the very best on your journey!

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