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sleep / wellness

How to Sleep Better When You're Sick

by BetterSleep
Dec 3 2019 • 6 min read
Last Updated on Oct 16 2022

As seasons change, so does your immune system’s reaction to things like germs and illnesses. Flu season has just begun, and you or someone you know may have to fight this infection. Conditions like the common cold and flu can be dreadful and affect your normal activities.

Doctors say that rest is the most important thing you can get when trying to bounce back from the flu and other infections. Even when you’re not sick, getting quality sleep is vital to repair your body from the work it does during the day. If you have an illness, your weakened immune system will make it harder to perform this nightly repair. While many remedies can help alleviate your cold and flu symptoms, getting proper rest on your sick days will help you feel like yourself in no time.

It can be tough to sleep when dealing with congestion, coughing, and a runny nose. All of these symptoms may keep you up at night because of the discomfort they bring. Fortunately, there are things you can do to improve your sleep when you are sick until you are back to feeling healthy.

Sleeping With a Cold or Flu

There are some things you can do to still get a good night’s rest as you get over your illness. First, always seek professional medical advice before trying any remedies or taking medications at home.

Make sleep a priority.

A common cold can come with a cough, sore throat, pain, body aches, congestion, and more. All of these symptoms can put your sleep at risk, ruining your sleep schedule. These symptoms make it difficult for you to fall asleep. The first thing you should move your focus toward is getting more rest.

It’s always important to indulge in good self-care, but this is especially important when you are sick. Trying to keep up with your normal activities of socializing and house chores will only drain more of your energy and extend your recovery time. To get a better sleep when you’re sick, you must prioritize it. This means limiting your evening activities so you can go to bed at a decent time, rearranging responsibilities to get a longer rest, etc.

Constructing a good sleep routine can also help you recover faster. This can include reading, meditating, or listening to soothing sounds before bed. All of these things can help lower stress and physical symptoms.

How to Sleep Better While Sick

Use a Humidifier or Vaporizer

Sometimes, dry air can make your symptoms worse. People with a difficult time with dry sinuses, a sore throat, or a dry cough can benefit from using humidifiers or vaporizers. Putting a humidifier by your bed at night can help add moisture to the air and lessen your sinus discomfort caused by the cold. Humidifiers also help ease congestion.

When adding moisture to the air with a humidifier, keep it clean and use distilled water. Not cleaning your humidifier can create a breeding ground for mold and bacteria growth, worsening your sickness.

Use Steam

In the same way that adding moisture to the air helps with congestion and other cold symptoms, so can steam. Steaming your nasal passages will provide soothing relief and help with inflammation that makes breathing difficult. Steam can also help loosen mucus.

Steaming your face

Steaming the face only is a common way to get the job done quickly and open up your nasal airway. Put hot water in a bowl and lean over it. The water should be hot enough to create steam, but be careful to avoid any accidental spills. A towel can be placed over your head and bowl to help trap steam. This can be done for 10-15 minutes.

Hot shower

A hot shower is another way to use steam while you’re sick. Steamy showers have relaxing benefits to reap even when you’re not sick. It works the same way that leaning over a bowl of water will work. Steamy showers are great for adding moisture to your nasal passages. A great time to do this is before bed to help you drift into sleep easily.

Steamy showers can also help loosen muscles that may cause body aches when you have a cold or flu.

Change Sleep Positions

When you’re sick, you may notice that your symptoms get worse and almost unbearable when you lie down. You may start to cough more, or your stuffy nose gets worse. Many different things cause this:


Gravity helps drain mucus naturally during the day. It’s so natural that you may not even realize it, or you’re not bothered by your cold symptoms at that moment. When you lie down, the anatomy of your body makes it difficult to continue to drain mucus naturally. Instead of draining to the back of your throat, it comes back up.

Blood flow

When you lie down, there is increased blood flow to areas of the body that may not get as much during the day. These areas include your head and nasal passages. The increased blood flow can inflate blood vessels in the nasal passages. This makes your nasal congestion hard to sleep with. Some people may find that they can breathe through one nostril while the other nostril remains blocked.

To prevent worsening your cold symptoms, change how you position yourself when lying down. Elevate your upper body when sleeping. You should especially concentrate on keeping your head elevated. This will help your sinuses drain easily and give you much-needed relief.

The easiest way to elevate your head is to use extra pillows for support. If the top part of your bed can raise, this is also great.

Change your diet.

Healthy food options should be a daily practice, and you shouldn’t stop when you are sick. Food will help give your body the energy and nutrients it needs so you can recover. Be sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables while waiting for your cold or flu to pass.

Some people may avoid eating because of losing their appetite or not wanting to eat because of throat pain. Finding ways to still get nutrients into the body, like healthy fruit smoothies, is important. While swallowing may still cause some discomfort, smoothies can go down easily.

Another important aspect of your diet is water intake. Drinking lots of fluids, especially water, will help break up thick mucus and soothe your throat. When battling a cold, your body will lose water through sweat if it comes with a fever. It’s important to increase your water intake to avoid dehydration.

Drink a Hot Beverage

Like steam and hot water, drinking hot beverages can help loosen thick mucus. Hot teas and soups are a great way to get the job done. You can drink hot tea before bed to help you sleep. Some may say it is even more effective than a steamy shower. Be sure that your choice of tea is decaffeinated so it doesn’t keep you awake. Some great choices for relaxing teas are:

  • Peppermint tea
  • Chamomile tea
  • Ginger tea
  • Lavender tea

Adding honey to your hot tea is a great option as well. Studies show that honey can be a natural cough suppressant.

Gargle with Salt Water

Saltwater has been a remedy for sore throats for ages—and no, it doesn’t require you to drink it. Gargling salt water not only helps with throat pain associated with sickness but can also help with sinus problems. The salt helps numb the pain from inflammation and also cleans bacteria. Gargling salt water before bed can help you get a restful sleep.

Final Thoughts

Sleeping when sick can be a challenge, but it is so important for healing. Give yourself permission to sleep more, and aim for quality sleep to feel better sooner. And if you’re having trouble falling asleep, try listening to one of the bedtime stories on BetterSleep.

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