How to get to sleep when you have a cold

Sleep can be a struggle when you have a cold. Such symptoms as a blocked nose can make it challenging to breathe, while muscle pain and the urge to cough can make it difficult to get comfortable. Yet quality sleep is essential for recovery.

Some try propping themselves up with pillows, others try popping a few pills. But you’ll be pleased to know, it is possible to get a good night’s rest no matter how stuffy you’re feeling. Independent sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley reveals how.

1. Get some fresh air
“Although you may feel you have to stay warm at night, fresh air is good for sleep, particularly when you aren’t feeling well,” says Dr Stanley. “My advice is to open the window before going to bed, even if it’s just a tiny bit. By opening the window, you lower levels of carbon dioxide in the air, which has been shown to improve the quality of sleep.”

2. Sleep on your own
“If you have a cold, you’re not going to be much fun to sleep next to. Your raised temperature and the discomfort associated with a cold will mean you are more restless throughout the night. The coughing, sneezing, wheezing and blowing is bound to be disruptive and, therefore, it may be beneficial to you and your partner if one of you sleeps in a different room for a couple of nights.”

3. Drink water
“Make sure you have a glass of water beside your bed to sip from during the night,” advises Dr Stanley. “One of the main problems with having a cold is the fact the blocked nose is liable to cause you to breathe through your mouth, resulting in dryness. Having water beside your bed means you can sip it throughout the night to relieve mouth dryness, and keep yourself hydrated.”

4. Sleep at the right temperature
According to this study, the temperature of your bedroom is one of the most important factors that can affect your quality of sleep.

“You need to lose body heat to get good quality sleep and you lose this heat from your head and face, as that’s the only bit of you that is exposed under the doona. While you can be as toasty as you want under the covers, the bedroom needs to be cool – the ideal temperature is 16-18°C. When you have a cold, you’re already going to find it more difficult to lose body heat, because you’ll be running a temperature. Having the bedroom too warm at night will make things even more difficult, so resist the temptation to turn up the heating.”

5. Take medication
“Ensure you have any medications you might need close by your bed,” says Dr Stanley. “This includes painkillers, sore throat pastilles and a medicated rub like Vicks VapoRub, which is clinically proven to help relieve common cold symptoms for a better night’s sleep.”

Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help with the body aches and pains that often go hand-in-hand with colds. Aspirin and ibuprofen are two common NSAIDs available without a prescription and can help to alleviate symptoms including headaches, muscle aches, ear pain and fever. Always check the label for the recommended dosage and see your doctor if symptoms persist.

6. Soak away the stress
“Have a warm bath before bed, as it will relax you and help you to sleep better. When you have a cold, the stresses and worries of modern life feel even worse, so soaking away your worries in a nice warm bath is an ideal way to wind down and prepare for bed.”

7. Don’t go to bed hungry
“When you don’t feel well, sometimes you lose your appetite. However, it is important not to go to bed hungry, as that will disturb your sleep.” Dr Stanley suggests eating a couple of slices of hot buttered toast for supper, as while your body doesn’t want to be processing a big meal during sleep, the feeling of hunger causes the brain to want food not sleep, and this may wake you in the night.

8. Have a soothing drink in the evening
“A hot ‘toddy’ of honey, ginger and lemon, and maybe something a bit stronger, is a soothing, relaxing drink that can help you get off to sleep,” notes Dr Stanley.

The warmth may soothe a sore throat and the steam may help to loosen up your congestion. Chamomile, peppermint, ginger and decaffeinated tea are all good options to relax with but if you’re not the biggest fan of tea you could try:

    • hot water and honey
    • hot soup
    • low-sodium broth.

Try to finish sipping 60 to 90 minutes before you go to bed to avoid having to get up to use the bathroom in the night.

9. Keep it caffeine free
Be aware that some cold and flu remedies can contain caffeine. Although this can help you feel better during the day, too much could disturb your sleep especially if you’re also getting caffeine from tea or coffee.

10. Clear those airways
“Difficulty breathing is a common symptom of a cold and one that can potentially cause sleep problems, as well as contributing to snoring. Try and keep your airways clear by using a suitable decongestant product and keeping tissues handy at all times.”

Nasal decongestants work by reducing swollen tissue in your nose, which can then decrease the production of mucus. This typically makes it easier to breathe, especially when trying to sleep. Nasal decongestants are available over the counter and come in the form of pills, nasal sprays or drops.

Do you have any other tips or tricks to add? Why not share them in the comments section below?

With PA

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.