How to Stop Coughing at Night

Janis

By Janis | Updated March 8, 2023

We all know what coughing feels like and how much of a sore thing a bad cough can be. Coughs can range from the mild little type of ‘tickling cough’ that can be a nuisance, right through a full throated highly painful cough that is part of what is possibly a major infection. At nighttime, the feelings of distress are made much worse, as they interrupt our sleep and we feel helpless to control them.

In some cases, coughing can be severely disabling of daily life the following day, as you have been left feeling exhausted. You wake up with a sore throat with your immune system still low.

We must therefore do all we can to stop ourselves from coughing overnight.

How to Stop Coughing at Night

What is a cough?

Coughing is a natural reflex. We humans are not the only animals to cough. It is an action that helps keep your lungs and airways clear, though at the time it can be painful as it does so.

These reflex actions, or involuntary bodily responses, as they are sometimes called, are the response of our bodies to an irritable stimulant or foreign body in the throat. So when something triggers coughing, your body automatically responds to clear it out, making sure your lungs and airways remain healthy.

It may not alleviate the symptoms of coughing to know that it is actually trying to help your body, but it is perhaps useful to know that it is a perfectly natural mechanism the body uses to aid another part of its operation.

If you have a nighttime cough, it is actually your body trying to help you while you are lying flat in bed. The act of coughing is helping to remove irritants and mucus from the upper airway – the nose, sinus cavities, throat, and bronchial tubes. In other words, a cough is the body’s way of clearing out the airways and keeping them free from the substances that can cause harm or discomfort.

What is a cough

What causes coughing at night

Usually coughing is the response of an immediate tigger. But at nighttime, it can be due to the body lying flatter and mucus gathering in the throat. The triggers therefore become more frequent.

A night cough may also be caused by allergens, dust, or even pollen, if you have certain plants in your bedroom. That said, often a cough is part of a genuinely significant viral or bacterial infection and it needs medication to alleviate the distress it causes you overnight.

In some cases, for example, an extreme nighttime cough may indicate a more serious medical condition, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This is a serious situation to be in, and you need to make sure that if you have a persistent cough you see a doctor or medical service.

Typically, if you have had a persistent cough for over two weeks, you should have your throat examined by a doctor to check that there is no substantive lung or breathing issue of which the cough is a symptom.

What causes coughing at night

Benefits of stopping coughing at night

Coughing at night can be incredibly disruptive to a good night’s sleep, so if you can rid yourself of the cough you will enhance the health of your whole body and prevent any further disruption of your rest.

Remember that your body needs all the rest and relaxation it can get to stay healthy and to function optimally. Stopping a night cough reduces the risk of complications, such as chest infections or asthma attacks that can be initiated by prolonged coughing.

Benefits of stopping coughing at night

Causes of Coughing At Night

Allergies

It is worthwhile being aware of allergies and their role in night coughing. Allergies generally cause inflammation in the airways, and an effect of this is to bring on a resistant cough. Look out for typical symptoms of allergies, such as fatigue, itching, watery eyes, and sinus blockage. Such symptoms often suggest that allergies may be the underlying cause of your night-time coughing.

If you are struggling with these symptoms, try taking an antihistamine before bedtime or in the middle of the evening, if that is when your symptoms are worst. Summer evenings can often cause coughing due to allergic reactions to the nature of pollen in the air during good summer weather.

Allergies

Sinus infection

These can be extremely annoying infections, as they can make you feel as if your whole head is full of gunk and mucus. They also lead to inflammation in the sinuses, located around the eyes and nose, and whether this is caused by bacteria or viruses, the effect can be that you have a hecking cough all night long, as your body tries to expel the irritants and the mucus.

If so, take a honey drink before bedtime and use a decongestant and throat lozenge before you bed down. That relief may only be temporary, but it may help you get off to sleep.

Sinus infection

Asthma

Coughing at night can present a serious challenge for those with asthma, as the condition can be unpredictable. It’s important to understand how to better control your asthma and reduce the occurrence of coughing fits. At night above all, these can be quite frightening, especially in children.

This is fundamentally because asthma is a condition that causes narrowing and inflammation of the airways, which can then lead to coughing and difficulty breathing. It also generates wheezing or chest tightness, and this can make some people panic, which exacerbates their tight throat.

Triggers, such as dust and pet dander, can worsen symptoms, so ensure your nighttime bedroom environment is as free as possible from these.

Asthma

Acid reflux

Acid reflux is a cause of night coughs that many people forget to consider. It happens when stomach acid comes back up your esophagus and it can cause uncomfortable burning sensations in the throat, and even feelings of choking. It’s especially common at night when you’re lying down, as the acid travels more easily, and for many people they have just finished having their evening meal a few hours before.

Modifying your lifestyle habits can make a difference. Avoid eating late, so that you are not lying down after meals. Also stop smoking; this is an absolute must if you want to stop coughs from developing. Lose excess weight too, since more stress is put on the breathing by carrying around excess pounds.

Lifestyle changes can definitely help reduce acid reflux symptoms, but if you need longer term relief, talk to your doctor about medications that can help.

Acid reflux

Treatments to Help Stop Coughing at Night

Stay hydrated

Hydration is essential. If you are to assist the throat in healing, and lessen the cough impulse, you need a well hydrated throat. One option many people try is to keep a glass of water next to the bed and sip it throughout the night, as and when you might awaken with a cough. This can suppress the cough impulse and enable you to return to sleep more effectively. It keeps your throat moist, which naturally assists in lowering the cough impulses that come from a dry throat.

It’s also important to avoid drinks containing caffeine or alcohol before you go to bed, as these are drinks that dehydrate you and make the overall atmosphere on your throat more susceptible to coughing.

Treatments to Help Stop Coughing at Night

Try a humidifier

Humidifiers are widely used and many people swear by them. A humidifier is a device which adds moisture to the air by dispersing a mist of water vapor into your room. The idea behind using a humidifier for cough relief is that the added moisture helps to thin mucus, making it easier for your body to expel it when you cough.

Plus, the air itself will feel more comfortable and the small but notable extra moisture added to the air will suppress your cough instincts.

Try a humidifier

Use over-the-counter cough medications

There is a huge market in such treatments and there is likely one that works well for you. Remember that as this is a night cough you are fine taking OTC meds that make you drowsy, as this will assist in your sleeping well too. Pharmacies carry a wide range of products that are suited to most people.

Popular treatments include cough suppressants, antihistamines, and expectorants. In addition, medicated lozenges can be an excellent choice, as can flavored fruit candies, so long as you do not use them to excess. Look out, too, for mentholated sweets, as they can help to clear the airwaves.

It’s important to remember that over-the-counter medications can be effective in relieving a cough, but will not cure the underlying cause. If you are suffering repeatedly, talk to your doctor to see if there is an underlying issue that might need more significant attention and prescription medication.

Use over-the-counter cough medications

Visit a doctor for prescribed medications

As we said, if your condition is having a major impact on your wellbeing and OTC remedies have not worked, check in with your doctor to have a fuller chest and throat examination. It may be that the cough is symptomatic of a wider health condition, or that it is an example of referred pain, where another medical issue altogether is manifesting itself in a cough.

If you really can’t shift the cough, you must make sure to see a doctor for an examination.

Visit a doctor for prescribed medications

Prevention

Avoid triggers such as smoke, dust and pet hair

These triggers can be subtler than we imagine, so if you are suffering from a night cough, have a good look at your lifestyle and check that you are not provoking it. For example, if you’re sensitive to smoke, dust or pet hair, avoid inhaling these things as much as possible, and certainly at night, when the body is more tired and less able to fight off irritants through adrenaline.

Try to keep the house clean and dust-free by regularly vacuuming and wiping down surfaces, and if you have pets, be sure to brush them regularly to minimize shedding. You may also benefit from investing in an air purifier to filter the air. By eliminating potential triggers, you will help minimize your coughing fits at night. Even if you are not allergic to these things, they may still be a nuisance to the throat, so look carefully at your sleep environment.

Avoid triggers such as smoke, dust and pet hair

Identify any allergies and take steps to avoid

Identifying any allergies and taking steps to avoid them can unquestionably assist in having a cough free night. Start by taking note of any symptoms that you notice, such as a scratchy throat, watery or itchy eyes, sneezing or coughing. If they occur more frequently or are more severe at night, that could be a sign of an allergic reaction.

Identify any allergies and take steps to avoid

Practice good sleep hygiene

This is a really important part of any decent sleep, especially if you are unwell. Sleep hygiene is all about making sure that your bedroom and sleep environment are comfortable, dark, and quiet. That means turning off TVs at least a half hour before you go to bed. It also means avoiding the blue light from screens and phones at least a half hour before bedtime too.

In addition to these, try to ensure you get a regular sleep schedule built into your life, so that you go to bed at a similar time each night. You should also absolutely avoid alcohol and caffeine several hours before bedtime, and stick to a light snack before bed.

The body dislikes having to digest heavy meals overnight, and there is also a significant risk of throat disruption through acid reflux as it does so.

Practice good sleep hygiene

Manage your stress levels

For many sleep specialists, the most important way to reduce nighttime coughing is to manage your stress levels. That means finding ways to unwind and relax. Try having a hot shower, or a warm bath, as these relax muscles and the steam soothes the throat. Some light and gentle stretching exercises can actually ease throat muscles, as can good breathing exercises and meditating. Reading is also an aid to deep sleep for many people.

To prevent coughing at night for the longer term, build good relaxation routines into your life. Yoga and other physical activities can be incredibly beneficial for reducing stress. Not only do they release endorphins, but they also provide structure to your week’s rhythms. They are also important in giving you private time to focus on yourself, which helps the throat and the voice stay calm and rested.

Manage your stress levels

Quit smoking

This will make a huge difference. Check out our How to Quit Smoking and How to Quit Vaping articles to help you make the change away from nicotine and smoking in general.

Nowadays, there are many options to ensure that you are able to sustain the commitment to getting nicotine out of your life. The benefits to your health will be huge. If you are a smoker and you suffer from night coughing, there is no better advice than to stop smoking, if you want to have cough free sleep.

Quit smoking

Avoid eating before bedtime

This is also really important advice. Because eating late at night can cause food to linger in your stomach and throat, it leads to an increased production of both saliva and mucus, both of which are common triggers for coughing fits.

The body does not like to have the pressure of digesting large amounts of food as it beds down for the night, so ensure your throat is not stressed into coughing by overeating too close to the time of the day when you are trying to give it rest.

Avoid eating before bedtime