Skip to Content

11 Ways to Sleep When You Have a Cold

Amidst our busy schedules, catching cold sure ranks high on the “things I dread” list of many Americans. However, on the flip side, while the flu is an undesirable event for most, it can often force the break from our calendar that we all need to remain functional adults.

During any bout of this influenza, you will hear a constant stream of advice from loved ones recommending you get as much rest as possible, and it’s for a good reason.

Getting quality and adequate sleep is one of the best ways to kick the cold. Sleep provides significant boosts to the potency of the immune system, which plays a cardinal role in helping you fend off the infection.

However, finding good sleep can be especially tough while you have the flu. First, symptoms of the flu-like constant coughing and having a stuffy nose can hamper your comfort levels negatively, impacting your quality of life, and making it significantly harder for you to attain that much needed restorative sleep.

Plus, for most people, flu symptoms typically worsen progressively towards bedtime, causing considerably more discomfort.

So, how do you get quality sleep despite having the flu, and is it even attainable? The key is a balance of effective home remedies, proper sleep habits, and incorporation of appropriate medication when necessary.

How to Sleep When You Have a Cold

When it comes to sleep quality while combating the flu, most of the problems come from the congestion of your airways, which can impair breathing, cause discomfort and irritation, and consequently make it tougher to sleep well.

Hence, anything that helps to relax or decongest your nasal canals or that puts you in a relaxed state can provide some respite.

1. Ensure You are in the Right State

When we find it hard to fall asleep, it is typical for one to immediately assign the blame to the most obvious potential cause like a cold or any other underlying health issues. However, sometimes, the root of the problem is an even more apparent yet easily overlooked plight—you may not be in the optimal state for sleep.

Before you go, blame the common cold for all your sleeping worries, first ensure that you are in a relaxed, distraction-free state before going to bed.

Tip: You can try out relaxation techniques like breathing exercises and meditation or incorporating soothing music into your bedroom to help you relax and drift off to sleep.

Furthermore, to ensure that you are in the prime condition to hit the sack running, you should consider waiting until you feel a bit sleepy before going to bed.

Plus, if you can’t sleep, tossing and turning won’t do you any good. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the best course of action here is to hop out of bed, go into another room, and opt for a low-intensity activity like reading a paperback or listening to a podcast, only reentering the bedroom when you feel sleepy.

2. Optimize Your Sleeping Angle with a Wedge

Optimize Your Sleeping Angle with a Wedge, Terry Cralle, RN

Terry Cralle, RN

One common home remedy for better sleep with a cold is stacking pillows to raise your head and help your sinuses drain more quickly. However, this route can often have the opposite effect.

If you don’t have pillows in the perfect size—and the chances are that you don’t, an extra pillow will provide an overly sharp angle of elevation. Here, this sleeping setup will unnaturally bend your neck, causing your head to sag forward, and further impairing your breathing.

Tip: The best position for sleep with the flu is on your side as back sleeping or sleeping on your stomach may cause or worsen post nasal drip. However, if you frequently wake with blockages in one side of the nose, you should try sleeping on your other side.

A better way to go about achieving head elevation is with a wedge. Wedge pillows provide a gentler incline that is significantly more comfortable than stacked pillows. These wedges lift your entire upper body instead of just your head, enhancing the drainage of the nasal airways, improving breathing, and promoting better sleep.

A more aesthetic but more expensive way to achieve the same result is by opting for an adjustable bed frame that lets you adjust the incline of your sleeping surface to the perfect angle with ease.

Alternatively, you can DIY your bed’s elevation for free by stacking some large books under the foot of your headboard.

3. Use a Humidifier

The humidity levels in your bedroom is another factor that can significantly impact your comfort levels. Drier rooms can exacerbate flu symptoms as they can leave you with a dry nose and throat—a recipe for frequent blockages.

According to Mayo Clinic, the optimal room humidity for sleep is the 30-50% range. You ascertain the humidity levels in your bedroom with a hygrometer that you can get for cheap from most hardware stores.

An excellent way to combat this problem is to leave a window open to let in fresh air or to opt for a humidifier in your bedroom. The steam that humidifiers release can help to ease congestion, moisturize your sinuses and relieve irritation, and ease flu and sore throat symptoms, helping you breathe and sleep better.

However, remember to keep your humidifier in top condition by cleaning it at least twice a week, replacing the filter periodically, and emptying and refilling the water canister with distilled water.

Failure to properly sanitize your humidifier may cause bacteria and mold growth, and release, which can exacerbate existing respiratory conditions or even precipitate new ones.

Also Read: 

4. Have a Warm Shower

Should You Take A Bath Before Sleep, Terry Cralle, RN

Terry Cralle, RN

Another effective way to give your airways that much-needed moisturization is with a warm shower. The hot steam that surrounds you in a closed bathroom during a warm bath can help to break up any congestion, draining your sinuses thoroughly, and enhancing your chances of obtaining improved sleep.

While a warm shower and hot food can help ease symptoms, the same cannot be said for a warm bedroom. Don’t be tempted to set your room to a higher temperature, as doing this can dry out the air, irritating your airways and worsening symptoms. Opt instead, for thick blankets if you need to keep warm, as you can easily toss those aside whenever you feel too hot.

Furthermore, a steamy shower also accentuates sleep thanks to other benefits like relaxing your muscles and helping you wind down before bed.


Not in the mood for a full-on shower, you can achieve a similar effect by:

  • Running the bath hot, locking the bathroom doors, and sitting in the steam-filled bathroom
  • Running a hot faucet and bending your head over the sink
  • Placing a warm compress over your face and sinuses

5. Eat or Drink Something Warm

You can mimic the effects of a warm shower and probably make it even more enjoyable by opting for a warm drink or soup.

Similar to what you get in a shower, the steam from hot foods and drinks can help ease congestion and clear out your nasal passages. Plus, eating soups and drinking fluids can help to keep you hydrated, further combating congestion, and aiding in speeding up your recovery time.

One of the most common choices here is a serving of chicken noodle soup, which is every American mum’s favorite flu time meal for a good reason.

Alternatively, you can opt for some tea with honey. Honey is an effective home remedy for sore throats and cough that can help with congestion. Plus, when you combine honey with calming teas like chamomile, it can make for one efficacious sleep time drink during flu season and beyond.

Tip: Make sure to avoid any caffeinated drinks, as these will completely negate any calming effect as they will keep you awake.

Read Also: 14 Best Foods To Eat Before Bed For Better Sleep

6. Try Saline Solution

One home remedy that often works wonders for many flu patients is some saline solution. A simple mix of salt and water can be useful for hydrating your inflamed mucous membranes, work to decongest your nasal passages, and help to combat viruses and bacteria.

Applying some saline solution to your sinuses can provide some instant relief that can be the boost you need to sleep better.

To use some saline solution, you can either flush your nasal passages with a neti pot or a saline nasal spray.

You can get prepackaged saline sprays from the pharmacy, or opt instead to make your saline solution at home. However, ensure to use distilled or sterilized water to avoid introducing any foreign microbes to your nasal passages.

7. Use a Nasal Decongestant

When it comes to utilizing medication to relieve your sinuses, one of the most effective forms you can try is a nasal decongestant. Like most other types of flu drugs, nasal decongestants help to ease congestion, freeing up your airways.

However, where these nasal sprays offer a marked advantage over other remedies is in the fact that they only affect your nose and not the rest of your body. Hence, with many nasal decongestants, unlike what you get with most oral medications, you don’t get side effects like feeling jittery, which can keep you awake.

Nevertheless, you should ensure that you keep your use of nasal decongestants to only a few days, as using them for extended periods can exacerbate irritation in the mucous membranes.

8. Opt for Flu Medication

For people with severe symptoms that are significantly impairing their sleep, sometimes the best way to get some respite is to consider some form of over-the-counter flu medicine.

The flu is a relatively short-term ailment that typically lasts only a few days to a couple of weeks at most. However, during this window, you pose a significant risk to any loved ones in the vicinity, as you can easily pass on the infection through contact.

Hence, while you have the flu, you should consider using an antibacterial hand sanitizer and avoid going out as much as you can to prevent spreading influenza.

However, there are several different types of flu medication, with many of these drugs attacking multiple symptoms at once. Hence, you must get an option that matches your symptoms the closest to get just the relief you need to enhance your sleep.

Furthermore, you must check carefully for potential side effects, as certain drugs can keep you awake, negatively impacting your sleep schedule.

Tip: You should also consider medication for other symptoms, for example, taking a pain reliever like acetaminophen if you are running a slight temperature, or using cough syrup to combat dry cough.

The added comfort you get from easing these symptoms will significantly increase your chances of improving your sleep.

9. Use Menthol

Rubbing a mentholated gel on your throat and chest before sleep can help to improve breathing thanks to its cooling effect. Furthermore, inhaling menthol essence can also help to ease nasal congestion and improve comfort levels.

10. Try Nasal Strips

A nasal strip is a flexible band with adhesive on the underside that sticks on your nose, immediately above the flare of your nostrils and helps to hold your nasal passages open more extensively than usual.

Consequently, these strips can help you breathe better despite the congestion and hence, help you sleep better.

11. Use Essential Oils

Essential oils like chamomile and lavender may help to ease tension and congestion, and help you relax, which can lead to improved sleep.

However, ensure that the concentration of aroma is not so intense that it is distracting.

Mix a solution of water and a few drops of the essential oil in a spray bottle and spray on your pillow and bed before sleep.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is my cold worse at night?

At night, the cortisol levels in your blood drop considerably. Consequently, your white blood cells and immune system become more active, fighting the infection, and provoking more of its symptoms.

Does sleeping help with colds?

Yes, indirectly. Sleep provides your body with the downtime your immune system needs to function effectively. Hence, while there is no direct cure for the flu, getting enough rest and drinking fluids to stay hydrated provides your immune system with the perfect conditions to combat the infection.

Sharing is caring!