Categories: Sleep Science

How to Sleep When You Are Sick

When you’re sick, the one thing your body needs more than anything else is often the one thing that feels the most elusive – sleep.  You want it. You need it. But the symptoms of your cold or flu seem to make it impossible.

According to WebMD sleep expert Michael Breus, PhD, “It’s true that many cold and flu symptoms seem to get worse at night, and they can interfere with sleep just at the critical time when your body needs rest the most.” But, why is this the case and what can you do to increase your ability to sleep when you’re sick?

Why is it Difficult to Sleep When Sick?

Part of the problem is the congestion factor. You are forced to breathe through your mouth when sick, rather than breathing through your nose. The need to breathe through your mouth is the result of all the congestion that goes along with the sniffles of colds and flu — and when you lie down or recline, the congestion feels worse.

But there’s more to the story than that. You see, when you breathe through your mouth, you also experience dryness of the mouth and throat that leads to coughing, which also disrupts your sleep. What’s more, our body’s own attempts to heal itself with the release of specific cytokines (immune factors) actually serve to disrupt your sleep as well.

How do You Get that Much Needed Sleep?

You can do quite a few things that will maximize your efforts to sleep while minimizing your discomfort – even when you’re sick.

1. Eliminate Distractions – This means that you need to keep your room cool, dark, and quiet while you attempt to sleep. Turn off the lights, turn off electronic gadgets, and prepare your mind and body for a good night’s sleep.

2. Hydrate – Not only will drinking an adequate amount of water while sick help relieve the congestion you’re feeling, but it will also help rehydrate your body. This is especially important if you’re taking cold medications as many of them deliberately cause dehydration.

3. Get a Little Steamy – In the bathroom, that is. A hot steamy shower does double duty for helping you get more sleep. First, the steam serves to loosen the mucus that causes head and chest congestion making it possible for you to breathe a little easier. Second, the cooling impact of stepping out of your hot shower into the cooler room causes a cool down effect signaling your body that it’s time to sleep.

4. Elevate Your Head – Post-nasal drip and congestion is often worse when you lie flat. Elevating your head will relieve the pressure to the sinuses as well as the congestion so that you can breathe easier and be better able to get that elusive sleep.

Sleep is an essential part of the healing process. These tips will help you get the sleep you need. One note to remember before you begin clearing out your medicine cabinet in search of cold symptom relief is that many of the cures you take for colds serve to make sleep a little more difficult to come by. That’s why it’s best to skip cold medications after 6:00 p.m. and try natural remedies, like those mentioned above, instead.

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    Amber Merton

    Amber Merton is an accomplished writer on the topics of green living and sleep. Her work has been covered in numerous online publications. Amber has been a regular author on the PlushBeds blog for the past 7 years.

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