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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Sleep Better When You’re Sick

Cold and flu symptoms can keep you from getting a good night's rest when you need it. WebMD talked to experts for advice on how to sleep better.
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Sleep Better in a Better Environment

Although a cold or flu can leave you feeling so worn out it seems you could fall asleep standing up, experts say don't overlook the need for a comfy and peaceful sleeping environment while you are ill. Sleep expert Susan Zafarlotfi, PhD, says everything from your pillow and blankets to the temperature of the room can play an important role in how well you sleep when you have a cold.

"When you don't feel well, it's often the little things that seem more irritating and annoying and can keep you from getting the rest you need," says Zafarlotfi, clinical director of the Institute for Sleep-Wake Disorders, and the Breath and Lung Institute, at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.

Her recommendation: Keep the room cool and dark and the covers light, all of which may reduce the number of night awakenings; use a body pillow to help your body be more comfortable; and elevate your head to ease sinus pressure and make breathing less cumbersome.

Breus agrees, but warns us not to simply prop up our head with an extra pillow. "This leaves the neck area unsupported, allowing your chin to drop down toward the chest and actually restrict breathing," he says.

His solution: replace your pillow with a foam bed wedge. If that's not possible, stack your pillows so that you create a wedge, with at least some lift under your shoulders, increasing elevation as you go towards your head.

"The idea here is to lift the whole upper part of your body and make it easier for nasal passages to drain and make it easier to breathe," he says.

What can also help: Using a humidifier or vaporizer to keep the air in your sleeping environment moist, which can also make breathing easier and calm a cough. But Popovich cautions to make certain you drain and clean it thoroughly every night. "Otherwise you could end up putting some dangerous bacteria into the air," he says.

You can also give yourself a bedtime steam treatment right in your own bathroom. Experts say before you're ready to turn in, turn on the hot water in your shower full blast, shut the bathroom door, sit on a chair or on the toilet seat, and take in the steam. "You don't want to get wet, you just want to allow the steam to loosen congestion and hydrate your nasal and throat passages," says Zafarlofti. After 10 minutes or so, wrap up in something warm -- like a terrycloth or flannel bathrobe -- and then hop into bed.

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