But when coughing occurs at nighttime, it can interrupt sleep and prevent a person from getting a good night's rest.
Fortunately, there are several ways to relieve coughing at night, including medication, lifestyle changes, and natural remedies.
Contents of this article:
Ten ways to relieve a nighttime cough
The following 10 tips may help a person reduce or ease their nighttime coughing:
1. Try a humidifier
A humidifier machine may help if the coughing is caused by dry air.
Dry air can make a cough worse. Air conditioning and cooling fans in the summer and heating systems in the winter can make the environment dry.
A person can try using a humidifier at night to add moisture to the air where they sleep. Adding humidity by this method may help soothe the throat and prevent coughing.
However, too much moisture can contribute to mold growth. Mold can be an allergen and cause even more coughing.
A device called a hygrometer can be used to check the moisture level in a room. A hygrometer can usually be bought from a hardware store.
A humidity level of about 50 percent in a bedroom is a good target to aim for.
2. Decrease allergens
Allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to a generally harmless substance. Symptoms, such as sneezing, stuffiness, and coughing are common.
Common allergy triggers include mold, pet dander, and dust. According to the National Sleep Foundation, a person can decrease allergy related coughing in the bedroom by:
- Using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter on the bedroom floor weekly to remove dust.
- Ridding the bedroom of magnets for dust, such as magazines, books, and trinkets.
- Washing bedding in hot water once a week.
- Showering before going to bed to remove outdoor allergens, such as pollen.
3. Manage GERD
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder that causes some of the contents of the stomach to flow back up to the esophagus. It can lead to throat irritation and coughing, especially at night.
People who have GERD should talk to their doctor about managing their condition. Avoiding foods that may trigger heartburn and not eating for about 4 hours before bed may help decrease symptoms.
4. Drink tea with honey
Hot tea with honey can soothe the throat, reduce irritation, and loosen mucus.
5. Consider over-the-counter medicine
Cough supressants and expectorants may be needed if coughing is particularly severe.
Some people may want to consider taking over-the-counter medication when coughing makes it impossible to sleep.
Cough medications are usually classified as one of the following:
- Cough suppressants: These block the cough reflex. Prescription cough suppressants are also available that contain codeine.
- Expectorants: An expectorant thins the mucus in the lungs, which makes it easier to cough it up. By helping cough the mucus up, an expectorant may shorten how long a cough lasts.
Cough medications may have side effects and interact with other drugs, so it is best to talk to a doctor or pharmacist first.
6. Elevate the head
Coughing often becomes worse 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 decrease postnasal drip and symptoms of GERD, which both cause coughing at night.
A person can prop up the head of their bed using a few pillows or a back wedge. A change in sleep position can allow mucus to flow without causing coughing.
7. Gargle with warm salt water before bed
Salt water can ease a sore or irritated throat. It can also help remove mucus from the back of the throat.
To reduce coughing, a person can mix a teaspoon of salt in about 6 ounces of warm water and gargle a few times before bed. The salt water should be spat out after gargling and not swallowed.
8. Quit smoking
Smoking cigarettes is a frequent cause of a long-term cough. Quitting smoking will help decrease coughing over time, although it will not stop the problem overnight.
The American Lung Association offers resources to help people who want to quit smoking.
It can also be helpful to talk to a doctor about aids for quitting, such as nicotine patches, gum, and medication.
9. Use a saline nasal spray
A saline nasal spray can decrease dryness, thin mucus, and wash away irritants and allergens from the nose.
Saline nasal sprays contain salt and water and may also decrease postnasal drip.
10. Treat asthma
A prescription inhaler may stop coughing at night due to asthma. Some inhalers contain respiratory medications to open the airways, which may ease coughing and make breathing easier.
Causes of coughing at night
Nighttime coughing may be a symptom of a range of conditions, including allergies, flu, bronchitis, and asthma.
Coughing at night can be caused by a wide variety of conditions, some of which are short-term and disappear within a week or two. In other cases, the causes of a nighttime cough can be long-term.
The following conditions are common causes of nighttime coughing:
- chronic bronchitis
- common cold
When to see a doctor
Nighttime coughing can often be reduced by using one of the above suggestions. However, there are some instances when it is best to see a doctor.
A person should see a doctor if they have any of the following symptoms:
- fever greater than 38.3°C
- coughing for more than a week
- coughing up blood
- chest pain
- trouble breathing
The severity of nighttime coughing will depend on the cause. For example, nighttime coughing due to a common cold will usually clear up in a week or two. If a chronic lung disease is the cause, coughing may be more difficult to reduce.
People who have allergies, asthma, or GERD can improve their outlook by managing their condition and working with their doctor to find treatment options that decrease symptoms.