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How to Sleep With a Stuffy Nose

A stuffy nose and other cold symptoms can make a good night’s sleep seem impossible. It doesn’t have to be that way. While it takes some effort and planning, if you’re suffering from a head cold, allergies or upper respiratory infection, it is possible to fall asleep and get a great night’s rest.

woman trying to sleep with stuffy nose

How to Sleep With a Stuffy Nose

  • Hydrate
  • Explore acupressure
  • Avoid alcohol at night
  • Try not to blow your nose
  • Spice it up
  • Use a saline spray
  • Take a decongestant before bed
  • Use a corticosteroid nasal spray
  • Banish the pets
  • Diffuse essential oils
  • Use nasal strips
  • Try a vapor rub
  • Apply some heat
  • Elevate your head

A common cold, allergies or the flu can put you in a Catch-22 situation. Sleep is what you need most of all to recover, but your stuffy head, sinus pressure, congestion, and other cold symptoms make it nearly impossible to sleep well. With your nose blocked, you’re mouth breathing all night, which can make you cough and give you a sore throat.

There are actually several strategies you can try to clear up congestion and open your airway. Some of these tips you need to put into place throughout the day, while others you can do right at bedtime. Consider experimenting a little bit to find the right solution, or the right combination of solutions, for you.


man drinking water while sitting on steps

Just like your doctor always tells you – drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Hydrating thins out the mucus that lines your nostrils so that it can flow out of your sinuses without getting stuck. When you have a head cold, you need to up your water intake to around 11.5 cups for women and 15.5 cups for men. If you’re running a fever or vomiting, you should drink even more.

Explore Acupressure

It won’t cure your cold, but using acupressure could help relieve some of the pressure of your clogged sinuses. Try pressing your left and right index fingers to either side of the base of your nose. Hold for three minutes. Applying pressure with your fingers can help activate pressure points that can give you some sinus relief.

Avoid Alcohol at Night

It sounds too cruel to be true, but drinking alcohol can aggravate a stuffy nose. In fact, for a little over 3 percent of the population, alcohol is a trigger for both sneezing and congestion. Alcohol is also a diuretic, which makes it harder to stay hydrated. When looking for how to sleep with nasal stuffiness, skip the late-night cocktail.

Try Not to Blow Your Nose

This seems counterintuitive. However, some studies show that blowing your nose actually creates extra pressure that can force fluid from your nasal cavity up into your sinuses. Instead of forcefully blowing your nose, use tissues to dab a runny nose throughout the day. And if you just can’t stand it and have to blow your nose, try blowing one nostril at a time very gently.

Spice It Up

plates with spicy peppers

Maybe you love a spicy curry, hot salsa, or a helping of five-alarm chili – whatever your poison, some of your favorite foods can sometimes help clear nasal congestion at night and open up your airway. Eating spicy foods can sometimes loosen mucus and help relieve sinus congestion. The main chemical in peppers, capsaicin, has a thinning effect on mucus, so you can get some congestion relief. Be warned: The capsaicin can trigger your nose to run even more.

Use a Saline Spray

There’s some encouraging evidence to show that rinsing your nose with a saline solution can greatly diminish symptoms of congestion at night. You can get a typical over-the-counter saline nasal spray, or you can use a neti pot, a bulb syringe, or even a fancy version that uses a battery-operated device to flush water through your nostrils. Saline solution is a small amount of salt mixed with sterile water; it’s non-medicated and non-addictive. You can use it as much as you like throughout the day to flush your nasal passages. You can even keep a saline rinse on your bedside and use it throughout the night if you wake up unable to breathe easily.

Take a Decongestant or Antihistamine Before Bed

Decongestants help battle congestion by reducing swelling in your nasal cavities. You can get a wide variety of decongestants over the counter as both oral medications and nasal sprays. Before you take one, though, you might want to talk to your doctor or pharmacist – some decongestant active ingredients might keep you awake, which defeats the purpose of taking it to help you sleep better. Decongestant nasal sprays are just fine for temporary use but aren’t necessarily the best option for long-term treatment of congestion.

Antihistamines help block the effects of histamine, which is a key culprit behind allergy symptoms like sneezing, runny noses, sore throat, cough, congestion and inflammation of the upper respiratory tract. These medications also are available over the counter, and you can often find cold and flu medicine that features an antihistamine and decongestant combination, which may be a powerful one-two punch for knocking out your nighttime congestion.

No matter whether you’re taking antihistamines, decongestants, or both, you should speak with a doctor or pharmacist before use, especially if you are taking other medications.

Use a Corticosteroid Nasal Spray

A nasal steroid spray is different from either a decongestant spray or a saline spray. Instead of relieving the immediate symptoms of congestion, a nasal steroid spray reduces overall inflammation within the blood vessels inside your nasal passages. They are also good for treating sneezing and runny noses, and many versions are available over the counter. Just watch out for side effects like dryness and nose bleeds. If you have trouble with these side effects, some sprays are available in sensitive versions that may not be as harsh for the inside of your nasal passages.

Banish the Pets

dog laying on bed

We know your pets are sweet and cuddly, but their associated allergens could also be irritating your nasal passages and making you congested. In fact, pet dander is one of the most common sources of indoor allergens that lead to upper respiratory symptoms. Your pets could be making your best pillow into an allergen trap. Sending your pets to sleep elsewhere can reduce your congestion at night and improve your sleep.

Diffuse Essential Oils

Some essential oils often have properties that fight congestion, especially if you’re diffusing them into the air you’re breathing. Fragrances like eucalyptus, lavender, and peppermint can make it easier to breathe, and they’re often comforting. Tea tree oil may also be helpful, but scientific evidence is inconclusive.

In a related action, you can also use a humidifier in your room at night, which can add moisture to the air and make it easier and more comfortable to breathe. Dry air often irritates your throat and nasal passages, which can contribute to congestion and cough. Plain water in your humidifier is fine. If you’d like to use essential oils with your humidifier, just be sure to use an appliance made specifically made for that purpose.

Use Nasal Strips

A lot of sleepers swear by these. Nasal strips are designed to open your nasal passages and improve your breathing. They simply fit over the bridge of your nose and slightly pull the nostrils out. You can find nasal strips at just about any drugstore. Just pick up a box and follow the directions for the particular product you’ve chosen to address nasal stuffiness. They tend to work really well if you’re a back sleeper or have trouble with snoring.

Try a Vapor Rub

Over-the-counter menthol vapor rubs can make you feel better, even though they won’t address the root causes of your congestion. A little vapor rub on your chest or even right underneath your nostrils can help open your sinuses and ease breathing at night. Most vapor rubs contain some form of menthol, eucalyptus, or camphor, which are natural ingredients that are known to ease breathing and help with congestion.

Apply Some Heat

hot water running in shower

Taking a nice hot shower before bed can help thin out mucus and give you some temporary relief from congestion. Make sure your water is hot enough to make steam but not too hot to be uncomfortable, and keep the bathroom door closed so that the steam builds up inside the bathroom. The hot steam soothes sinuses and nasal passages and also helps you relax. You can get a similar effect from a facial steam: fill your sink with hot water, lean over it and put a towel over your head to trap the steam around your face. Think of it like an express facial that also helps clear congestion.

Elevate Your Head

Try propping yourself up with pillows so that you’re in a semi-sitting sleeping position, which helps air move more freely through your nasal passages. Sleeping in this position also helps reduce sinus pressure and allow mucus to drain. Sleeping flat allows mucus to pool in your sinuses, which leads not only to congestion, but often also means waking up with a pounding sinus headache, or sore throat and a cough. For this reason, some people even choose to sleep on the couch or in a recliner when the common cold strikes.

How to Sleep with Nasal Congestion

The next time you can’t fall asleep because of a stuffy nose, don’t worry – there is help available. You have lots of options, from modern medications to old fashioned remedies, to help clear your nasal passages and get a good night’s sleep.

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