A sore throat can have many causes, including a virus or cold. It can also happen if you are dehydrated, smoke cigarettes, eat spicy foods, or wear clothes that irritate your throat. But did you know that lack of sleep is one of the most common causes?
The National Sleep Foundation found that people who sleep less than six hours per night are four times more likely to suffer from chronic sore throats than those who get at least eight hours of shuteye each night. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 50% of us report getting less than seven hours on a given worknight.
So how does this happen? One reason is that sleep deprivation reduces the production of saliva, which helps clean and protect the throat from bacteria. It also hinders your immune system, making it harder for you to fight off infections like colds or viruses that could cause a sore throat.
Plus, when you’re exhausted, you are more likely to speak at higher volumes, which can lead to pain.
Not that lack of sleep always causes a sore throat. If you are getting enough rest, you can still get one for other reasons. But if you’re having trouble sleeping at night and waking up with your voice feeling hoarse or scratchy more often than normal, it may be worth seeing whether increasing your ZZZs can help.
In this article, we are going to see how a lack of sleep can cause a sore throat. And, if you’re sure you’re getting enough sleep, other potential causes for this issue.
The Link between Poor Sleep and Sore Throat
When you sleep, your throat is cleansed of bacteria and other things. If you don’t get enough sleep, the amount of saliva in your mouth decreases. This can lead to sore throats because it’s harder for your body to fight colds or other viruses that could give you a sore throat.
When you sleep, it’s like your immune system gets time to take a break. This is because instead of fighting viruses, it is busy studying what attacked it during the day and building up memory immunity against it. Basically, it’s working on strengthening itself rather than actually fighting diseases.
It’s like boxing practice vs the actual match. Night is practice time for our immune system. But if you don’t get enough sleep, your body won’t get enough practice in, making its performance worse during the day.
When people are not getting enough sleep, they wake up feeling hoarse or scratchy more often than normal.
If you think this is happening with you, it might be worth trying to get more sleep so that your throat doesn’t hurt anymore. I know, I know. Easier said than done. Sleep is a real challenge for humans in the 21st century. We are stressed and overworked. We are constantly chasing the next item on our to-do list.
How to Improve Your Sleep
OK, let’s be honest. Sleep is tough for most of us these days and there isn’t a single solution that will fix everything: not the blue light blocking glasses, not melatonin supplements and definitely not counting sheep!
First, you need to set yourself up for success at bedtime, so it becomes easier to fall asleep. This includes shutting down electronic devices at least an hour before bed, turning off all the lights and making sure your bedroom is really dark.
You should also set yourself up for success during the day by taking a break every 90 minutes from work to stand up and walk around if you can. If not, make it a point to take five to ten minutes to close your eyes and meditate.
Exercise is a great way for keeping your immune system healthy so that it doesn’t have trouble fighting off infections like colds or viruses which can lead to sore throats.
This will give you the mental boost you need to keep going, while also decreasing stress levels so that it’s easier for melatonin secretion in the evening when it is time to go to bed.
Blue lights from screens are known to disrupt our sleep. That’s because they make our body believe it’s still daytime.
Finally, consider trying a sleep mask or earplugs if noise really bothers you at night.
I know it sounds like a lot of effort, but when you wake up full of energy and ready to tackle on the day, it’ll all be worth it.
Sleeping with Your Mouth Open—Your #1 Enemy
This is such a big issue that it deserves its own section.
Sleeping with your mouth open is bad for you because it dries out the mucous membranes, which then allow all kinds of germs to grow.
If you’re used to breathing with your mouth during the day, you’re most likely keeping your mouth open while you sleep. This is a big issue, because our body associates mouth breathing with danger or harsh conditions.
This is because mouth breathing gives our lungs more oxygen to work with, which, from an evolutionary standpoint, was only necessary when running away from predators, or hunting preys.
So, our body is in a permanent fight-or-flight mode when we breathe from our mouth. This increases our cortisol—the stress hormone—production, which drastically lowers our sleep quality. If we can’t relax, we have issues falling asleep, and also issues actually sleeping well.
Another reason people sleep with their mouths open is that they are tired and fall asleep before they know it. It’s also often seen in older adults who have arthritis or other issues with their jaws.
There is even a term for it: sleep-disordered breathing (SDB). One of the most common types of SDB is called obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), and it’s actually very dangerous because people stop and start breathing repeatedly during the night, which means they’re not getting enough oxygen.
This happens during an OSA event:
You are sleeping. Your throat muscles relax, causing your airway to become blocked. You stop breathing for about ten seconds or more (a hypopnea). Because of the lack of oxygen in your blood, you wake up enough to open your airway and let some air get through. When you do, the air makes a snoring sound (the snort). You fall back asleep quickly—but not for long. The cycle starts all over again because your throat muscles are still relaxed and that blockage is still there. This process repeats itself throughout the night without you ever knowing it’s happening.
Even if none of the above happens, falling asleep with your mouth open simply dries up your mouth during night. Breathing with your mouth isn’t as catastrophic during the day, because our body easily replaces the saliva, and we don’t keep our mouth open all day.
But we can’t close our mouth at night. So, the air we inhale dries up our mouth for hours.
The easiest way of fixing this issue is by taping your mouth at night. It sounds ridiculous, and it is! But, it’s also by far the simplest fix for the problem.
Potential Causes of Sore Throat
It’s important to know the potential causes of a sore throat, so you can pin down the reason you’re suffering from it.
- Lack of sleep. We’ve already covered this in-depth. Poor sleep weakens your immune system, making the pathogens’ job easier.
- Spicy Foods. Spicy foods are delicious, but they can also irritate your throat.
- If you feel like your nose is stuffed up and it’s hard to breathe, you probably have allergies (also known as allergic rhinitis). This might make your sore throat even worse if allergens enter your mouth as well.
- We’ve gone over this, too—sinuses are the pockets of air in our skull that help us breathe and smell things. If these get blocked or inflamed, it can cause a sore throat (and other problems).
- This is more commonly known as acid reflux, but GERD is more specific, as it stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease. This disorder happens when the stomach acid goes back up into your esophagus (the tube that leads from our mouth to our stomach).
- Cigarette smoke irritates the throat and lungs, which can cause a sore throat. If you already have a sore throat, smoking can make it even worse.
- We’ve already covered this in the section about breathing through your mouth at night, but dry air is also another common cause of sore throats. The drier the air is—like during winter—the more likely our bodies are to get sick because there’s nothing to stop the viruses from entering our bodies.
- This is another common cause of allergies, but pollen can also trigger a sore throat if it gets into your mouth and irritates you that way. Even if you aren’t allergic to it.
- Prescription Medications. There are many prescription medications that come with side effects like dry mouths or headaches—and sometimes even sore throats.
- Post Nasal Drip. This is another common cause of sore throats that are worse in the morning because mucus builds up overnight and then drips down into your throat when you’re sleeping.
- Vitamin Deficiency. If you don’t drink enough water, the mucus in your body thickens up and irritates your respiratory system—this can cause a sore throat. Other vitamins that are linked with this issue include vitamin C or E., B12, Folic Acid, Iron.
- A Change in the Weather. As mentioned above, dryness can cause serious problems for your throat, especially if you’re living through a cold winter with nothing to stop the viruses from entering your body easily.
- Stress and Anxiety. We’ve covered this already as well—stress has been linked to sore throats because it causes the body to release cortisol, which causes inflammation.
- Respiratory Illnesses. If you have a cold or another respiratory illness that makes it difficult for you to breathe properly, this can trigger a sore throat because your breathing is slightly impaired. This means more air enters your mouth instead of going down into your lungs—which dries out your throat even more.
- Viral Infections. This is another big one that doesn’t need much explanation—viruses are all over the place during flu season, so if you catch something like a cold or even influenza it might cause a sore throat.
Waking up with a sore throat is unpleasant. But it’s fixable, if you take the steps to do so. Good sleep is the foundation of a healthy life. Fixing your sleep pattern will improve your quality of life. You should start from there.
Then, look at learning to breathe with your nose. Mouth-breathing is associated with many health problems, and it also makes us more stressed overall. Plus, the air quality is way lower than that breathed through the nose. That’s because our nose has a way to filter the air that comes in. Breathing with your mouth should be reserved for specific situations such as hard workouts and strenuous physical activity.
Consider waking up with a sore throat as a warning. Your body is signaling to you that something is wrong with it. It’s up to you to diagnose the causes of the sore throat, and acting to fix it.
If you’re unsure of what’s causing your issues, consult a physician. They are trained experts who will tell you what you must do to solve the issue.
What matters is taking action and block your sore throat to become something more annoying.