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5 Tips to Live by When Trying to Sleep While Sick

It's tough to get good sleep when you're under the weather. Use these five tips to sleep well while sick.

Woman with a cold sitting on couch and blowing her nose
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Whether it's a throbbing headache, upset stomach or snot running down your throat, it can be difficult to fall asleep when you're sick. But your body needs sleep to kick the ick and get better. And that's not just an old wives' tale -- that's science. Cytokines are the immune system protein that fights infections: They're produced and released while you're sleeping. You need to sleep in order to give your immune system the best chance of fighting off sickness. 

Still, that can be easier said than done. We pulled together the top five tips for sleeping while sick and two things to avoid. 

Tips to make sleeping easier while sick

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Prop your head up when sleeping

This is my ultimate solution for sleeping when sick. While it goes against everything else I recommend, it's the only thing that works for me when I'm sick. So, throw your normal sleeping position out the window and prop yourself up when trying to fall asleep. It's a little awkward initially, but if you're suffering from nasal congestion, it's a great way to help them drain and reduce sinus pressure. 

However, you must ensure your neck is supported. Instead of simply elevating your head and straining your neck, stack pillows to elevate your whole upper body while supporting your neck. If you have an adjustable mattress, just lift the head. 

Stock your nightstand with essentials

Being sick is bad enough; the last thing you want to do is get out of bed in the middle of the night. It's a good idea to stock your nightstand with all the essentials for being sick -- like a big glass of water, some cough drops and a box of tissues. That way, you don't have to break out of your cocoon of blankets throughout the night. You can also add a humidifier to help combat a stuffy or congested nose. 

Woman sitting on the floor using a Neti Pot to clean her sinuses.
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Ease cold symptoms 

You want to be in the optimal state to fall asleep, which can be difficult when you've got a sore throat or constant cough. Soothing drinks like herbal tea or warm milk can help ease a sore throat and help open up your nasal passages. Alternatively, a spoonful of honey before bed coats your throat and reduces coughing. 

If a runny nose or sinus pressure is your issue, you can use a Neti Pot or spray bottle to flush your sinuses before bed.

Take a warm bath before you go to sleep

A shower before bed can help you fall asleep, as long as you do it right. Experts suggest you keep the water warm, not too hot. Specifically, water temperature should be between 104 to 109 degrees Fahrenheit (40 to about 43 degrees Celsius) for the best sleep. Timing is also important: You should aim to bathe 60 to 90 minutes before you plan to get in bed. This gives your body adequate time to relax and your body temperature to drop. 

When you're sick, taking a warm bath or shower before bed can also help break up mucus so you can breathe more easily. 

Be careful with your cold medications

If you use cold medications to ease symptoms, make sure you opt for those made specifically for nighttime. Some cold medications contain the decongestant pseudoephedrine, which helps clear up a stuffy nose. However, it's bad news for falling asleep. Pseudoephedrine can make some people feel more hyper or alert. Diphenhydramine, a common ingredient in allergy medication, also has the same effect on some people. This doesn't happen to everyone, but it does happen. It's best to read labels and be careful when choosing cold medications. 

Things to avoid while sick

Don't stay in bed

Typically, you want to reserve your bed for sleeping. When you're sick, one of the only things you want to do is snuggle up in bed. But that can make it difficult to fall asleep. It's best to get out of bed and do something relaxing in another room -- whether it be a bubble bath or reading a book. Once you feel drowsy enough to fall asleep, get back in bed. 

Woman sitting in bed, blowing her nose
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Be mindful of your temperature

If you're running a fever, your instinct may be to crank the AC to cool off or turn up the heat when the chills roll through. Extreme temperatures at night make it hard to fall asleep normally, much less when you're ill. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.