Suffering the symptoms of a cold is bad enough by day. At night, it can be worse. Blocked sinuses can make it so hard to breathe that you spend all night in a misery of tossing and turning.
WebMD asked cold and sleep experts around the country for advice on how to breathe easier at night while you’re fighting a cold. Their six tips could ease your symptoms and help you sleep. Plus, they just might help you get well a little sooner.
1. Use a Nasal Strip
Applied externally to the middle of the nose, nasal strips have an adhesive on one side. "They’re really quite remarkable,” says David Neubauer, MD, associate director of the Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorders Center in Baltimore.
Choose the appropriate size (small, medium, or large) and wash and dry your face before applying.
2. Take a Hot Shower Before Bed
The steam and humidity of a shower cause sinuses to drain and the lining of the nasal passages to constrict, relieving some of the stuffiness of a cold. You can achieve the same effect by sipping a cup of hot tea or having a bowl of piping hot soup.
Chicken soup, the age-old cold remedy, may indeed have special benefits. When researchers at Mount Sinai Medical Center tested the venerable cold prescription in 15 cold sufferers, chicken soup proved more effective than plain hot water in clearing out sinuses.
Avoid drinking cold beverages near bedtime, however. The same study showed that they may increase congestion.
3. Use a Saline Rinse
One of the safest ways to unblock congested sinuses and get a good night’s sleep is to use a saline rinse, in either a spray bottle or a neti pot. A neti pot is a small container with a narrow spout that’s used to pour small amounts of saline rinse into the nostrils. The saltwater washes mucus and irritants from your nose and helps the cells that move the mucus.
It's important, according to the CDC, that if you irrigate, flush, or rinse your sinuses, you use distilled, sterile, or previously boiled water to make up the irrigation solution. It’s also important to rinse the irrigation device after each use and leave it open to air-dry.
Saline is a safer bet than over-the-counter or prescription spray nasal decongestants, says Bradley Marple, MD, professor of otolaryngology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. Although topical decongestants effectively reduce congestion, versions that contain pseudoephedrine may cause sleeplessness and agitation.
“You may be able to breathe easier but not be able to fall asleep,” Marple says.
Doctors have another concern about nasal decongestant sprays. Some, when overused, cause a rebound effect, called rhinitis medicamentosa. Instead of relieving congestion, the drug begins to cause the problem it’s designed to treat. When people go on using the spray, they get caught in a vicious cycle and can become addicted to the medication.