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Top 10 tips for getting a good night sleep when you have a cold

When you're full of a cold, you need plenty of rest to fight the ensuing infection. But the symptoms of a cold can make it harder for you to get the rest your body needs.

A blocked nose, tight chest, sore throat and general fatigue can make it difficult to get comfortable and keep you awake.

Luckily, there are many ways you can alleviate the symptoms of a cold so you can sleep better.

Use a decongestant

When you have a stuffy nose, you may find it harder to breathe. While there are many natural ways of clearing a blocked nose, you may find fast and effective relief from the use of a decongestant nasal spray.

Decongestant sprays containing Xylometazoline - such as Otravine or Sudafed - can be easily bought over the counter from pharmacies in the UK.

These sprays work by opening the blood vessels in the nose, which become inflamed due to an allergy or infection, and the effects can last for up to 12 hours, depending on the brand.

Use nasal strips

An alternative to decongestant spray are nasal strips. These small strips are adhered directly onto the nose above the flare of the nostrils. Nasal strips are often used to improve breathing in athletes and to treat snoring.

They contain small, flexible spines which stretch across the nose and pull the nasal passages open, making it easier to breathe. Nasal strips can be bought over the counter from most chemists.

Put a nasal strip on just before you go to bed to make it easier for you to breathe while you sleep. Remove the strip in the morning with warm, soapy water.

Have a soothing hot drink

It's important to drink plenty of fluids when you are full of a cold. Before bed, drink something hot like tea, hot chocolate, malt drink (Horlicks), or natural soups - particularly chicken soup, which is rich in protein, and tomato soup, which is full of vitamin C. The steam can help to clear the mucus from your nose and the warm fluid can help ease a sore throat and warm you up during the cold and flu season. Plus, the great taste is sure to perk you up while you are not feeling your best.

A popular home remedy is a hot ginger, lemon and honey drink, often called lemon and honey tea despite containing no tea leaves. Simply mix hot water with lemon juice, ginger extract and honey. The lemon juice provides vitamins and decongesting properties while the honey and ginger help to sooth a sore throat.

Cold and flu drinks, such as Lemsip, can also be bought from chemists. These are often small powder sachets which are mixed with hot water. These drinks contain paracetamol to help relieve headaches and muscle aches which are common symptoms of colds. If you are taking a cold and flu treatment that contains paracetamol, do not take other medications which also contain paracetamol.

Lozenges and cough syrups

An incessant cough can make your throat sore and disturb your sleep. Depending on the type of cough you have, whether it's dry, mucous or chesty, will depend on the type of syrup you should take. Speak to your pharmacist if you are not sure which kind of cough you have and subsequently which treatment would be best for you.

Some syrups are formulated with codeine to offer more effective pain relief from a dry or chesty cough. Codeine is an opioid which is used to relieve pain, treat diarrhoea and suppress coughs, and is found in a range of products. However, codeine is addictive. Before taking any products which contain codeine, it's important to speak to your doctor or a pharmacist about the dangers of codeine.

Other cough syrups, such as Night Nurse Liquid, combine paracetamol (which relieves pain and reduces fever), a cough suppressant and a sedating antihistamine, which helps you get a good night's sleep. You can buy Night Nurse over the counter from your local pharmacy or online from Prescription Doctor.

Alternatively, a lozenge may help to sooth your throat. Lozenges containing menthol (peppermint oil) and/or eucalyptol (eucalyptus oil), such as Lockets, Strepsils, Soothers and Halls, are available from chemists, corner shops and supermarkets. They are available in a range of flavours, and some are filled with a liquid centre. Much like syrups, you may find different types of lozenges for the various types of cough. For the best result, choose the treatment for the type of cough you have - this will usually be found on the packaging.

Be careful when choosing syrups and lozenges as some can contain high amounts of sugar. You may want to ask your pharmacist for a sugar-free option if your doctor has told you to reduce your intake of sugar.

Have a hot bath or shower

A hot bath or shower before bed can help with symptoms of the common cold.

Firstly, the steam can help with decongestion by cleaning out the mucus in your nose.

Secondly, the warm water can help treat mild muscle aches you may have.

To make your bath more effective against your symptoms, try adding a few drops of essential oil to your bath water.

Essential oils

Aromatherapy is a popular home remedy for treating the symptoms of an assortment of conditions. It involves diffusing essential oils in hot water and breathing in the vapours. Always use caution with essential oils as they can cause irritation on the skin.

Take a bowl of hot steaming water and add a few drops of essential oil. Peppermint, lavender or eucalyptus are popular choices for decongestion. Placing your face a few inches above the bowl, cover both your head and the bowl with a towel.

Close your eyes and slowly breathe in through your nose for 2 minutes at a time. The steam and ingredients in the oil will help to relieve your blocked nose quickly and help you relax before bed.

Alternatively, you may want to use a vapour lotion or gel. These mentholated topical treatments can unblock your sinuses and make breathing easier during the night.

To use them, rub some lotion on your chest, neck and upper back immediately before going to bed. Vapour rubs, such as Vicks VapoRub, are available from most chemists.

What is Menthol?

Menthol is a substance extracted from mint plants.

It is found in a wide variety of products including Benylin, Covonia, Strepsils and Vick's VapoRub.

While menthol doesn't actually decongest your nose, it makes it feel like you are breathing easier, and provides a pleasant cooling sensation when applied to the skin, inhaled or ingested.

Keep your head upright

Lying down can exacerbate breathing difficulty and make it harder for you to get to sleep. If your cold is affecting your chest, you should consider adopting a different sleeping posture.

One sleeping posture, which is often used to help those with shortness of breath, is to lie on your side in a fetal position with your head elevated and with a pillow placed between your knees. If you prefer you sleep on your back, elevate your head with a few pillows and put a pillow under your knees.

While in one of these positions, breathe slowly and deeply as you drift off to sleep.


When you have a cold, you may feel you are more sensitive to temperature and humidity in the air. A bedroom that is too warm and dry can exacerbate your cold symptoms and make it harder to sleep.

It's important to keep good sleep hygiene when you are unwell to improve the quality of your sleep.

Keep your bedroom cool. You may want to open a window, put on the air conditioner or simply place a fan in your room to gently waft cool air around your room.

While you may want to wrap up and stay warm in bed while fighting a cold, the warmth may actually disrupt your sleeping pattern.

The NHS recommend that your bedroom should be approximately 18° Celsius, with a maximum temperature of 24° Celsius, for the best sleep.


To combat air dryness, you could use a humidifier in your room while you sleep.

Humidifiers emit a cool mist into the air and can help moisturise dry skin, clear blocked sinuses and make it easier to breathe.

Be careful, however, as too much humidity can cause condensation on walls and ceilings, which can breed harmful bacteria and worsen symptoms to those susceptible to mould allergies.

Things to avoid

When you are ill, there are many things that can make you feel worse and drastically affect the quality of your sleep.

Caffeinated drinks, such as coffee and energy drinks, can affect your sleep patterns considerably. Before bed, try not to drink caffeinated beverages and opt instead for fruit and herbal tea, hot chocolate, malt drinks and soups.

A popular misconception is that milk can increase the amount of mucus in the body when you have a cold. Although drinking milk will not increase the amount of mucus, it can thicken the mucus in your nose and throat. You may want to limit the amount of dairy you consume while you have a cold.

Alcohol can cause dehydration and generally make you feel worse if you are already feeling under the weather. It may also interact with medication you are taking for your cold symptoms, resulting in adverse side effects or simply rendering them ineffective. Therefore, you should avoid alcohol while you are battling a cold.

Which treatment is best for me?

Everybody is different, and you may find yourself using more than one of these tips to ease your symptoms.

If you are unsure about which cold treatments are right for you, speak to your pharmacist about the symptoms you are experiencing, so they can suggest the right treatment for you.

Having a cold can interrupt your sleeping pattern, leaving you feeling worse the next day. But with the right treatments, you can keep your symptoms at bay and get a better night sleep.

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