Tough out your cold. Have plenty of chicken soup. Take zinc tablets the instant you feel a scratchy throat coming on. Eat a clove of raw garlic. (Ew.) With cold and flu season entering a fever pitch, you’re bound to hear countless tips like these on how to deal with an illness. But making sure you’re getting sleep when you’re sick is the one thing you absolutely must do to get over your illness.
Sleep Well Even When You’re Not
Getting restful, recuperative sleep is one of the best ways we can help our immune systems battle illness.
“Many of the molecules and substances that circulate in our body and also within cells overlap between immune function and sleep,” says David Rapoport, MD, director of the sleep medicine program at New York University School of Medicine. “So it’s not at all surprising that they affect each other.”
One way sleep and the immune system interact with one another is through fever. Our bodies use fever as a physiological defense to fight infection. During sleep, we can get a better fever response. That means it’s more efficient for our bodies to take on unwelcomed germs and viruses when we’re asleep.
More Sneeze Than Zzz’s
Get sick, get to bed, get better. Sounds simple enough. Having a cold or the flu is so annoying, you wish you could just sleep through the misery and wake up after you’re feeling better. But it’s not always easy to sleep when you’re coughing, can’t breathe and you have to blow your nose every half hour.
“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,” says sleep expert Michael Breus, Ph.D.
Great. So now you need to find a cure for lost sleep, too?
Don’t worry. The Better Sleep Council is here to help – through sickness and in health. We’ve compiled some proven tips and strategies to improve your chances of getting better sleep when you’re sick.
- Be in the right place and space. To fall asleep and stay asleep, you want dark, cool and quiet surroundings. Plus you want to make sure your mattress and pillows aren’t working against your best efforts to get some rest by robbing you of the comfort and support you need throughout the night. (Establishing a sleep-friendly environment is good advice regardless of how you’re feeling.)
- Sleep on the side (effects). Cold medicines can come with side effects that wreak havoc on sleep. Decongestants, in particular, are known to make many people feel jittery. Avoid taking these medications later in the day. If you’re still looking for relief from a stuffy nose when you’re ready to turn in, try a nasal spray decongestant, which is less likely to keep you up.
- Use gravity to your advantage. Believe it or not, much of the difficulty you experience in trying to sleep when you’re sick comes from simply lying down. Sinus pressure builds when your head is level with your body. Post-nasal drip collects in your throat, producing a cough. Use a foam wedge pillow as a prop for your upper body.
- Get steamy. Warm, moist air can help clear mucus from breathing passages and calm a cough. Set up a humidifier or vaporizer in your bedroom. Soak in a warm bath or take a hot shower before you retire. Or you can just linger over a hot cup of tea as you drink it to breathe in the vapors. (Chamomile, of course.)
- Mind your bedside manners. Congrats! You fell asleep … only to have a drippy nose or dry throat wake you up. Ugh. The faster you can respond, the faster you can get back to sleep mode. So keep a box of tissues, a glass of water and any other treatments at your bedside for easy access.
- Stop sharing. Sharing is not caring when you’re sick. If sickness is disturbing your sleep, you can be certain it’s doing the same for your bed partner. Consider using the guest room or the sofa until you feel better. This way at least one of you will be assured a good night’s rest. Plus you might avoid giving your cold to your loved one.
This blog provides general information about sleep and sleep products. The words and other content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified heath care professional. This blog should not be construed as medical advice or used to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other health care professional. This blog is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment, and should not be relied upon to make decisions about your health or the health of others. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog or elsewhere on bettersleep.org. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.