July 22, 2024

Advanced Ailment Care

Elevating Health Solutions

How To Sleep When You’re Sick

5 min read

Whether you have clogged sinuses or a cough that won’t quit, it can be difficult to get even a few hours of uninterrupted sleep when you’re feeling ill. Before allergy season arrives in full force, I consulted with Dr. Mark Atkinson, MBBS, Medical Director at Sens.ai, to learn how to sleep when you’re sick. Whether you’re dealing with allergies, a common cold or a nasty flu, creating an environment that helps target and relieve symptoms can promote better rest, an important key for the road to recovery.

There’s a reason why doctors encourage patients to get plenty of sleep when they’re feeling under the weather. During the NREM (non-REM) phase of sleep, we enter a restorative state in which our bodies work to strengthen the immune system, repair muscle tissue and combat infections. This is why sleep is sometimes known as “nature’s natural medicine.” Below, I reveal expert-approved tips to get more quality rest when you’ve come down with a cold.


How To Sleep When You’re Sick (In 7 Steps)

1. Maintain A Comfortable Room Temperature

Body temperature is already a major perpetrator of sleep disruption, but illness can cause even more problems. “When feeling sick, our body can find it harder to regulate temperature,” says Atkinson. “Keeping your room at a comfortable, cool temperature, typically between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. This range helps most people sleep better, although you might need to adjust it based on your comfort level, especially if you have a fever.”

2. Prop Your Head While You Sleep

Lying in a flat position when your sinuses are congested contributes to the buildup of postnasal drip, giving you a mucus-ridden cough and the inability to properly breathe through your nasal passages. Keeping your head propped higher than your heart can help relieve tension on your sinuses and promote easier breathing. Effortlessly raise the head of your bed to your most comfortable position using an adjustable bed frame, or rely on a wedge pillow to do the trick at a more affordable price point.

3. Use a HEPA Filter

Keeping an air purifier in your home with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter allows you to breathe cleaner air and helps prevent the spread of germs. According to Atkinson, “HEPA filters capture airborne particles, including many pathogens, allergens and pollutants, which can reduce viral and bacterial load within the room.” He continues, “Using an air purifier with a HEPA filter can help remove these irritants from the air, making it easier to breathe, especially important for conditions like allergies, asthma or respiratory infections. A brand I recommend is AirDoctor.”

4. Use A Humidifier

Aside from breathing cleaner air, Atkinson says that moisture in humidified air helps “soothe irritated airways and nasal passages, making it easy to breathe.” He warns, “Dry air can exacerbate respiratory symptoms, especially a cough and sore throat.” The remedy? Aim for an indoor humidity level between 40 and 60%. Humidifiers can also help with other issues caused by dry indoor air, like chapped lips and a bloody nose.

5. Take A Hot Shower Or Bath Before Bed

A hot shower before bed is beneficial to your sleep in more ways than one when you’re dealing with a respiratory illness or allergy symptoms. Not only can the steam help alleviate congested airways, but it’s been shown to lower blood pressure and relax sore muscles. A hot nighttime shower can also decrease core temperature—a signal to your body’s internal clock that it’s time for bed. All of these results contribute to more comfortable, restful sleep.

6. Try Nighttime Cold Medication

Consult with your doctor or pharmacist on the right nighttime cold medications for you that target your specific symptoms, many of which are available over-the-counter. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is beneficial for treating body aches and fevers, and guaifenesin (Mucinex) can help relieve congestion. But pay close attention when you pick your medication—certain decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) and phenylephrine (Sudafed PE) are good at relieving congested airways, but insomnia is a common side effect.

7. Avoid Prolonged Bed Rest

While quality rest is important for helping you get over a cold, avoid spending too much time lying in bed during the day. Your bed should be reserved for nighttime sleep; too much sleep during the day can make it more difficult to fall asleep at night. While you don’t have to completely avoid naps, try not to nap within a few hours of your bedtime.


Why Trust Forbes Vetted

McKenzie Dillon, our mattress and sleep editor, has been writing in the health and wellness space with a focus on sleep for five years. She is a certified sleep science and stress management coach, and can provide insights on how to practice better sleep hygiene to achieve better sleep. For this article in particular, she sought the expertise of Dr. Mark Atkinson, MBBS, Medical Director at Sens.ai and founder of Optimal Health Medicine, for his recommendations on how to sleep when sick and ways to optimize your environment for better rest.


What’s The Best Position To Sleep In When Sick?

Lying on your back with your head propped helps reduce pressure on your sinuses and prevents postnasal drip that contributes to congestion and coughs. Keep your head in proper alignment with your neck and spine to avoid aches and pains. Achieve an optimal propped position by tilting the head of an adjustable bed frame, utilizing a triangular wedge pillow or stacking your pillows on top of each other.

Why Is It So Hard To Sleep When Sick?

There are a few reasons why getting a good night’s rest is difficult when you’re sick. Congested airways can make it difficult to breathe and cause coughing, and symptoms are worsened if you aren’t keeping your head properly elevated. An illness-induced fever can also cause sweating, overheating and chills, and regularly disrupt sleep through the night.


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