When you’re sick with a bad cold or the flu, all you want to do is escape into sweet slumber, but your body rarely cooperates. “Getting a good night’s sleep when you are sick is not easy,” notes Dr. Gretchen LaSalle, a family practitioner in Spokane, Wash. “(But) getting good rest and plenty of fluids can help on the road to recovery.”
Most viruses run their course in a week or two, but here are a few strategies to get you through the night:
- Anti-inflammatory medications. It may seem like a no-brainer, but make sure to take an appropriate dose of ibuprofen or naproxen before bed. “It can help with the achy muscles of the flu, sinus and ear congestion and sore throat with a cold or sinus infection,” LaSalle says.
- Water. Good hydration is always important, but that’s especially true when you’re sick. Keep a water bottle on your nightstand and take regular sips. “You want to keep those secretions thinned out,” says Dr. Robert Record, a family practitioner in Birmingham, Ala.,
- Cool-mist vaporizer. Many people put vaporizers in their children’s bedrooms at night when they get sick, but they’re useful for adults with stuffy noses and sinus congestion, too.
- Pillow therapy. Do you find yourself coughing more when you’re lying flat on your back? Post-nasal drip drainage can trigger a cough, which keeps you awake. Record recommends putting enough pillows underneath your head and back to position yourself at a 30 or 40 degree angle. “If we can sleep more vertically … the secretions will drip on down at a faster rate and not sit there on the gag reflex,” he says.
- Guaifenesin. If you’re very congested, a product containing this expectorant thins out the mucus in your air passages, which can help you cough it up more easily. However, the coughing may keep you awake. Also, be careful not to take more than one medication with guaifenesin.
- Nasal steroids. “If the virus has been going on for several days, I’m a big fan of nasal steroids,” Record says. Products like the nasal spray Flonase contain fluticasone, which can help treat nasal congestion. It doesn’t provide instant relief, however, and you may need to use it for a few days to get results.
- Heat packs. If painful pressure mounts when you lie down, try putting a heat pack on top of your sinuses on your forehead or cheekbones. Nurse practitioner Angela Golden notes that she uses a small heat pack that resembles a beanbag and can be heated in the microwave. “But you could also just take a washcloth and get it really warm,” says Golden, president-elect of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.
- Neti pot. Reminiscent of a small lamp, neti pots can be used to flush mucus from your sinuses. However, controversy arose recently when two deaths were linked to the use of contaminated water with Neti pots. Some experts recommend that you boil water or use distilled water just to be on the safe side.
- OTC nasal spray. Nasal sprays that contain oxymetazoline (like Afrin) will effectively open your sinuses for up to 12 hours. “But it is best used only rarely, as regular use—more than three days in a row—can lead to a condition called rhinitis medicamentosa. This is a condition when your nose gets ‘addicted’ to the medication,” says LaSalle. “So, use Afrin only as a last resort.