There are several ways to relieve a nighttime cough, such as using a humidifier or herbal preparations. If an underlying condition causes coughing, treating this may also help.

A troublesome cough during the day may seem more intense at night, and some coughs worsen when a person lies down. However, various strategies can help a person get a better night’s sleep with a cough.

It is important to note that not every remedy will be suitable for every type of cough. It is best for a person to contact their doctor for a diagnosis and treatment advice.

Read on to discover ways to reduce or ease nighttime coughing, including addressing conditions that can cause a cough. These include managing the environment, using medications, lifestyle changes, and natural remedies.

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Here are some tips that focus on managing the air people breathe, both in the bedroom and during the day.

1. Try to quit smoking

Exposure to tobacco smoke is the most common environmental cause of chronic cough.

If a person smokes, quitting smoking can help lower the risk of a cough, as well as help manage conditions that may cause a nighttime cough, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and asthma.

Coughing may improve after 8 weeks of quitting smoking.

A doctor can advise on effective ways to quit smoking and how to use aids such as nicotine patches, gum, and medication.

Discover 11 tips to give up smoking.

2. Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke

According to the American Cancer Society, people who do not smoke but spend time in smoky areas are also at risk of a cough, asthma, various lung diseases, and cancers.

Asking others not to smoke and avoiding smoky areas may help reduce irritation and inflammation.

How does secondhand smoke affect people with asthma?

3. Try a humidifier

Dry air can irritate the throat and sinuses and worsen a cough. Air conditioning and cooling fans in the summer and heating systems in the winter can make the environment dry.

Using a humidifier at night can add moisture to the air while a person sleeps. This may help soothe the throat and prevent coughing. It is best to use distilled or demineralized water, as tap water can leave particles when it evaporates.

However, too much moisture can contribute to mold growth. Mold can be an allergen and cause more coughing.

A humidity level of about 40–50% is suitable for a bedroom, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.

4. Manage allergens

Allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to a generally harmless substance. Indoor allergens include mold, pet dander, and dust. They can lead to sneezing, stuffiness, and coughing.

Some ways to decrease allergy-related coughing in the bedroom include:

  • using an asthma and allergy-friendly vacuum cleaner regularly
  • putting an allergy cover on the mattress
  • showering before bed to remove outdoor allergens
  • keeping pets out of the bedroom

5. Reduce dust

Dust in the bedroom can worsen symptoms at night.

Some tips for reducing dust and dust mites include:

  • avoiding wall-to-wall carpets, soft furniture, and other items that collect dust
  • washing bedding in hot water weekly
  • ventilating the space
  • preventing damp, as mold increases dust

6. Keep windows closed

Depending on where a person lives, keeping the windows closed may help reduce allergic reactions and coughing at night.

Keeping the windows closed may help eliminate dust, air pollution, and pollen from sleeping areas.

7. Use an air filter

Air filters and air purifiers can help remove particles from the air, which may help reduce coughing.

Research from 2020 looked at the effect of using air filters in the bedroom for 6 weeks on people with allergic rhinitis.

Results suggested that an air purifier fitted with a HEPA filter can significantly lower both the concentration of particles in the air and the need for medication in people with this condition.

8. Raise the head of the bed

Coughing may worsen at night because a person is lying flat. Mucus can pool in the back of the throat and cause coughing.

Sleeping with the head elevated can reduce the symptoms of postnasal drip and GERD. Both can cause coughing at night.

A person can prop up the head of their bed using:

  • an adjustable bed
  • additional pillows
  • blocks under the legs of the bed
  • a back wedge

There are many herbal and natural remedies for a cough. It is best to first contact a doctor, as there is not enough scientific research to confirm that many natural remedies are effective and safe, and they may interact with other therapies.

Some treatments may also be unsuitable for children.

Learn about 12 natural cough remedies.

9. Drink lemon with honey

Drinking lemon with honey before bed may help soothe the throat and reduce irritation. According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, it has a similar effect to cough medications.

Honey is not suitable for children under 12 months.

10. Ivy leaf

Some cough mixtures contain natural expectorants, such as the extract of ivy leaf (Hedera helix).

A 2020 study involving 118 people concluded that using ivy leaf cough syrup for 7 days improved symptoms of acute bronchitis and various cough-associated sleep disorders.

Ivy leaf appears to loosen and thin mucus in the same way as acetylcysteine, another treatment for managing mucus, but with fewer side effects.

11. Thyme and primrose

A 2016 review found that a medication containing primrose, thyme, and thymol effectively reduced cough in people with respiratory tract infections.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is an herb with antispasmodic, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and antioxidant properties. The active ingredient in thyme is thymol.

Primrose (Primula officinalis) has similar properties and is also an expectorant, helping the body expel mucus.

12. Essential oils

Essential oils may help reduce cough and other symptoms of bronchitis, bronchiolitis, and other upper respiratory tract infections.

Plants with oils that have shown promise in reducing cough include:

People can add a few drops of eucalyptus or peppermint to water and use for inhalation.

Although research suggests essential oils may have some health benefits, it is important to remember that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not monitor or regulate the purity or quality of these oils. A person should talk with a healthcare professional before using essential oils and research the quality of a particular brand’s products. It is also important to always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.

13. Gargle warm salt water before bed

There is some evidence that a saltwater gargle may help prevent or manage infections by flushing out unwanted particles and pathogens from the throat.

A 2021 report concluded that gargling saltwater may help manage COVID-19, but more research is necessary.

Learn more about saltwater gargles.

14. Use a saline nasal spray

A doctor may recommend a saline or steroid nasal spray to irrigate the nasal passages and the upper airway. A saline spray contains a specially prepared solution of salt and water.

Research from 2017 looked at data from 45 people with a dust mite allergy who used typical saline nasal-pharyngeal irrigation for 30 days. At the end of the study period, they reported better relief from their cough with typical saline compared with nasal corticosteroids.

According to a 2015 review, there is not enough evidence to prove that irrigating with a saline solution is effective. However, some trials have shown it can reduce nasal secretions, improve nasal breathing, and lower the need for medications.

15. Neti Kriya

Neti Kriya is a yoga-based treatment and one of the six cleansing techniques, or Shatkarmas, of Hatha yoga.

The practice of Jala Neti uses a neti pot for inserting lukewarm salt water into the nose.

In NetiKriya, a person takes the water into one side of the nose and then blows it back out through the other side of the nose.

The FDA suggests the following technique for using a neti pot:

  1. Leaning over a sink, tilt the head sideways so that the forehead and chin are level.
  2. Insert the spout into the upper nostril while breathing through the mouth.
  3. Allow the water to drain down through the lower nostril.
  4. Clear the nostrils and repeat on the other side.

It is an ancient practice that may help manage rhinosinusitis, a common cause of a cough.

The use of neti pots may not be safe for everyone, and people should check first with a doctor before using one. A person should always use purified water, as there is a risk of infection with tap water.

NetiKriya is not suitable for those susceptible to ear infections.

Cough medications are available over the counter (OTC) or as a prescription.

Some formulations are especially for nighttime coughs and contain ingredients that help a person sleep.

16. Cough suppressants

Cough suppressants block the cough reflex. They are available as OTC or prescription drugs.

Some prescription cough suppressants contain codeine and are unsuitable for people ages 17 years and under.

17. Expectorants

Expectorants include products such as guaifenesin (Mucinex). They thin the mucus in the lungs, making it easier to cough up. This may shorten how long a cough lasts.

They can help treat upper respiratory tract infections and chronic respiratory diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

18. Steroid nasal spray

Steroid sprays such as fluticasone propionate contain corticosteroid medications. These help reduce inflammation, and doctors sometimes prescribe them for people with nonallergic rhinitis.

However, corticosteroid use can have adverse effects, including a possible worsening of asthma symptoms. It is essential to follow a doctor’s instructions when using a steroid spray.

19. Vaccinations

Following a doctor’s recommendations about vaccinations can help prevent conditions that cause a cough.

For people ages 19 years and over, these include the annual flu vaccine and COVID-19 vaccines and boosters.

Following the immunization schedule for infants and children can help protect them from conditions such as whooping cough.

Various health conditions can cause a nighttime cough. Following a treatment plan for these conditions can help manage them and address a cough.

Many different conditions can cause a cough. It is best to contact a doctor for an official diagnosis. Below are some examples of conditions that can cause a cough and how to treat them.

20. GERD

GERD is a digestive disorder that causes regurgitation and heartburn. It happens when a sphincter (valve) in the esophagus becomes weak.

It can lead to throat irritation and coughing.

A doctor may recommend:

  • eating smaller meals more often
  • not eating from 3 hours before bedtime
  • avoiding substances that trigger symptoms, such as chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco

A doctor may also prescribe medication.

21. Laryngopharyngeal reflux and postnasal drip

Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) is a possible cause of postnasal drip. This is similar to GERD but does not cause heartburn. Instead, it can cause a postnasal drip, a cough, and a feeling like there is a lump in the throat.

People with LPR can:

  • avoid trigger foods, such as spicy and fatty foods, chocolate, and alcohol
  • avoid eating for 3 hours before bedtime
  • sleep with the head of the bed raised

22. Asthma

Using an air purifier and avoiding allergens can help manage asthma. However, asthma is a potentially life threatening condition that needs medical attention.

Medication for asthma comes in different forms, such as pills and inhalers.

Some inhalers contain medications to open the airways, which may ease coughing and make breathing easier. Some are for regular, long-term use, and others provide rapid relief.

Learn more about treatments for asthma.

It is best for a person to contact a doctor if they have a cough and any of the following symptoms:

It is also advisable to contact a doctor if the cough worsens or does not go away.

Here are some answers to questions people often ask about stopping a cough.

Why is coughing worse at night?

Lying flat in bed can cause mucus to collect in the airway, making coughing more likely. Coughing may also worsen at night if a person is sleeping in a room that is dusty or contains other allergens.

Why do I get a tickle in my throat and cough at night?

A tickle in the throat and cough at night may be due to irritants in the room. This can worsen in rooms with wall-to-wall carpets and lots of soft furnishings. Dry air can also irritate the throat, but using a humidifier may help.

Learn more about the causes of a tickle in the throat.

Is a tickle in the throat at night asthma?

While asthma can cause a nighttime cough, there are other causes like postnasal drip, allergies, and GERD.

How can I stop a night cough?

Managing a nighttime cough typically involves treating the underlying cause. People can also try cough suppressants, humidifiers, and home remedies.

Why am I coughing so much but not sick?

If a person is coughing but not sick, the cough could be a result of allergies, GERD, postnasal drip, or asthma.

A cough can develop for many reasons. At night, some types of cough can worsen.

Raising the head of the bed can help resolve some types of nighttime cough. Other tips depend on the cause but may include avoiding eating close to bedtime, keeping a room clear of allergens, and taking medication.

It is best for anyone with a persistent nighttime cough to contact a doctor, as there may be an underlying condition causing the cough.

Read this article in Spanish.