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.
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
"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
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.