Coughing can occur at night for various reasons. When it does, it can affect a person’s ability to sleep and get enough rest. But there are ways to relieve a nighttime cough, such as using a humidifier or herbal preparations.

A troublesome cough during the day may seem worse 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.

These strategies include:

In this article, learn about 22 ways to reduce or ease nighttime coughing. Inlcuding 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.

Quitting smoking also lowers the risk of a cough as well GERD, asthma, and other causes of a nighttime cough. A person should see an improvement after 8 weeks of quitting.

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

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.

If a person finds it hard to quit, they can still help protect their household by:

  • avoiding smoking indoors
  • making the car a smoke-free zone
  • avoiding places when out with the family or other household members

How does secondhand smoke affect people with asthma?

3. Try a humidifier

Dry air can irritate the throat and sinuses and make a cough worse. 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 are:

  • using an asthma and allergy-friendly vacuum cleaner once or twice weekly to remove dust
  • putting an allergy cover on the mattress
  • showering before bed to remove outdoor allergens, such as pollen
  • keeping pets out of the bedroom

5. Reducing dust

Dust in the bedroom can make symptoms worse at night.

Here are some tips for reducing dust and dust mites, another common allergen:

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

What is a dust mite allergy?

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 the sleeping area.

7. Use an air filter

Air filters and air purifiers can help remove particles from the air.

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.

How do you choose a good air purifier?

8. Raise the head of the bed

Coughing often worsens at night because a person is lying flat in bed. 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.

One study suggests that raising the head of the bed may be a safe alternative to using GERD medications, although more studies are needed.

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

A change in sleep position can allow mucus to flow without causing coughing.

There are many herbal and natural remedies for a cough. Always check first with 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.

Remedies such as essential oils and honey will not cure an underlying condition. A person with a severe cough will need medical treatment, too.

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 medicines.

Honey is not suitable for children under 12 months due to the risk of botulism, a form of food poisoning.

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. It may be a safe and effective therapy for both children and adults.

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

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

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

12. Essential oils

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

Oils of the following plants have shown promise in reducing cough:

Add a few drops of eucalyptus or peppermint to water and use for inhalation.

Always check first with a doctor, as essential oils may not be safe for everyone. It is also crucial to follow the instructions for each oil and to use them correctly. Always keep them out of reach of children and pets.

What is aromatherapy?

Although research suggests that 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. A person should talk with a healthcare professional before using essential oils, and they should be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. A person should always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.

13. Gargle with warm salt water before bed

Many people use a saltwater gargle to ease a sore or irritated throat. There is some evidence that it may help prevent or manage infections by flushing out unwanted particles and pathogens from the throat.

In 2021, some scientists concluded that using a saltwater gargle may help manage COVID-19, but more studies are needed.

To make a saltwater gargle, a person can mix a teaspoon of salt in about 6 ounces of warm water and gargle a few times before bed. A person should spit out the saltwater after gargling.

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.

A saline nasal spray may help:

  • flush out particles in the nasal passages
  • remove mucus and pathogens from the back of the throat
  • manage chronic inflammatory conditions, such as sino-rhinitis
  • prevent upper respiratory tract infections

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.

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

15. NetiKriya

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

Similar to saltwater gargle or saline irrigation, the practice of Jala Neti uses a neti pot, a small pot filled with lukewarm saltwater with a spout for inserting the 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 Food and Drug Administration (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. Always use purified water, as there is a risk of infection with tap water.

The FDA also urges people to ensure their hands and all equipment are clean.

NetiKriya is not suitable for those susceptible to ear infections.

How does a sinus flush work?

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

These products may have side effects and interact with other drugs. A person should discuss their choices with a doctor or pharmacist first. It is also essential to choose the right sort for the person’s age and the type of cough they have.

Some formulations are especially for nighttime coughs and contain ingredients that help a person sleep, such as Tylenol cold plus flu plus cough night.

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 children aged 17 and under.

Which drugs help with a dry cough?

17. Expectorants

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

They can help treat upper respiratory tract infections and chronic respiratory diseases, including COPD.

18. Use a steroid nasal spray

A steroid spray, such as fluticasone propionate (Flonase), contains corticosteroid medications. These help reduce inflammation, and doctors sometimes prescribe them for people with nonallergic rhinitis. A steroid spray may also help manage a postnasal drip.

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 diseases that cause a cough.

For people aged 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 diseases such as whooping cough.

What to know about the COVID-19 vaccine.

Various health conditions can cause a nighttime cough. They include gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR), a postnatal drip, and asthma.

A doctor may carry out tests to identify an underlying cause and treat it appropriately.

Seeking treatment and following the treatment plan for these conditions can help manage them and address a cough.

20. Seek treatment for 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, especially at night when lying down.

A doctor may recommend:

  • eating smaller meals more often and not eating from 3 hours before bedtime
  • raising the head of the bed at night
  • avoiding substances that trigger symptoms, such as chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco

A doctor may also prescribe medications to manage symptoms.

21. LPR and postnasal drip

A common cause of a postnasal drip is LPR, sometimes called silent reflux. 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 should:

  • 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

Polyps and other conditions can also cause a nighttime cough due to a postnasal drip.

22. Manage asthma

Using an air purifier and avoiding allergens can help manage asthma, but 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.

What are the treatments for asthma?

A cough can happen at any time, but some types of cough seem worse at night.

People with the following conditions may find their cough worsens at night or when they lie down:

Other causes of a cough include:

Sometimes, a cough needs urgent medical attention, such as with a pulmonary embolism or pneumothorax (collapsed lung). Both can cause a dry cough and make breathing difficult.

A person should see a doctor if they have a cough and any of the following symptoms:

It is always a good idea to seek medical help if a person has a cough or other symptoms that are causing concern.

The outlook will depend on the cause.

Quitting smoking may improve a cough after a few weeks. Some conditions, such as GERD, should improve with treatment, but a cough that occurs with asthma may be present throughout a person’s life.

A cough from a cold or the flu usually goes away after 3–4 weeks. A post-infectious cough usually lasts 3–8 weeks, but it can last longer. A cough that persists after COVID-19 may last several months.

A nighttime cough can be distressing. If it causes sleep loss, it can affect a person’s mental and physical health.

Seeking help for a nighttime cough and following up on treatment for an underlying disorder can help improve the outlook.

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

What causes a nighttime cough?

There are many causes of a cough, and some are worse at night, including asthma and postnasal drip. Carpets, soft furnishings, bedding, and soft toys are common in bedrooms and all act as dust traps, which increases the risk. Lying flat in bed can also cause mucus to collect in the airway, making coughing more likely.

How can I stop it?

Many strategies may help stop a nighttime cough. They include hydrating the room, removing dust, keeping windows closed to keep out pollution and allergens, salt water nasal irrigation, herbal remedies, and prescription and OTC cough suppressants. Often, however, the most important action is to avoid smoking and address any underlying health conditions.

A cough can develop for many reasons. Some go away within a few days, while others persist or come and go throughout a person’s life. At night, some types of cough become worse.

Raising the head of the bed can help resolve some types of nighttime cough. Other tips depend on the cause. With GERD, LPR, and other causes of a postnasal drip, avoiding eating close to bedtime may help. Keeping a room clear of dust may help those with asthma and other allergies.

Anyone with a persistent nighttime cough should speak with a doctor, as there may be an underlying cause that needs addressing.

Read the article in Spanish.