Being stuffed up while trying to get some sleep is one of the worst experiences. According to a study done some time ago, only 17% of patients experiencing nasal congestion rated their sleep as optimal. If that’s the case it definitely makes sense for all of us to get a better understanding of nasal?congestion remedies. If this is a way of life for you (as it was for me), you may be thinking that it’s not a big deal and that waking up tired is perhaps normal and there’s no way out. Nothing could be further from the truth! The reason you’re tired is simply because you’re not breathing properly while you sleep, and you’re ending up being sleep deprived. Do recall that sleep deprivation can really have a negative influence on your health, affecting your cognitive capacity, cardiac function and blood pressure. Overall, lack of sleep can really STRESS you out. Read on to find out how you can beat this beast and get a good night’s sleep besides!
How Does Nasal Congestion Affect Sleep?
To really delve into the impact that nasal congestion has on sleep, you need to consider the triggers. Congestion can come about due to allergies and/or infections which may cause additional symptions such as itching, sneezing, mucus formation and the (almost inevitable) runny nose. Additionally, you may have swelling or inflammation of the mucous membranes due to dilation of small blood vessels in the nose. This of course results in a lot of discomfort and breathing difficulties. So what do you do? You will often?change?your sleeping posture etc in order to compensate, but you’ll most likely wake up frequently. You may also suffer from sinus drainage (also known as post-nasal drip) which causes mucus to collect at the back of the throat. When this happens you will likely end up coughing at night which prohibits you from achieving deep restorative sleep.
Humans breathe preferentially through their nostrils at night, a bodily habit which is very important for a number of reasons. For one thing, breathing through your mouth?is nowhere near as efficient (or as safe!) as using your nose. The nose provides a number of safety mechanisms to protect us from the regular detritus which circulates in the air around us unseen. One of these mechanisms is mucus, of which you may produce up to 2 pints per day. You may think this weird but mucus helps to trap foreign bodies in the nose so as to prevent them entering the lungs. The cells in the nose also produce small amounts of nitric oxide which is capable of killing bacterial and viral agents, while improving your rate of oxygen uptake. Needless to say, nasal congestion interferes with both of these. For one thing you may overproduce mucus which may cause obstructions in the airway, thus waking you up at night. Being forced to breathe through you mouth can also precipitate?snoring and sleep apnea, the latter of which can be very dangerous in the long run.
Steps to Relieve Nasal Congestion and Improve Sleep
There are eight very simple and basic steps you can take to get relief from nasal congestion.
- Make use of nasal saline sprays. Nasal saline sprays are excellent for keeping the nasal passage moist and preventing dryness. Since it’s basically salt water, it can also help reduce tissue inflammation in the nose which would normally case swelling and stuffiness if left unchecked. In this way, you can rest assured of clarity before dropping off to sleep. Be very careful of branded nasal steroid sprays since these can’t be used as frequently and have a slightly different method of working. When using a nasal steroid spray, it is recommended that you first remove any thick mucus or buildup using a nasal saline spray first so that the former?can do its job effectively. Doing a sinus rinse with a neti pot can also assist.
- Keep an antihistamine handy. We would all love to avoid allergens, but let’s be realistic, that can be pretty difficult. My home is surrounded on all sides by flowers and trees, and being in a tropical climate means we don’t quite have the same seasonalities as non-equatorial spots. That also means that high-pollen days are pretty much all-year round depending on what trees you may have in your backyard! As a result, it makes sense to always have an antihistamine on hand so as to keep those allergies under control. Talk to your doctor for some advice as to what may work well for you (in my case Loratadine seems to be a fairly low cost and effective drug available OTC). Also, don’t take this right before going to sleep…it’s not magical and will require time to work. To be safe I’d say give it an hour before hitting the hay for good; by that time you’ll be all settled and hopefully no sniffles will get in your way. Combine with a nasal saline spray for great results!
- Look out for allergens on your person. As a follow-up to our previous point, keeping an antihistamine handy can really be supplemented by doing whatever’s necessary to avoid transferring allergens from the outdoors into your bedroom! While walking about you may pick up all sorts of things–lint, pollen, dust, pet dander–you name it. These may accompany you straight into your bedroom, where they’ll raise heck by irritating your sinuses and causing nasal congestion. It is therefore advisable to keep habits that decrease the likelihood of these doppelgangers accompanying you. It may be good to place avoid tossing your clothes on the bed after coming in from outside (as most of us are wont to do). Pollen, for example, sticks to clothing so it may just transfer to your bed sheets in the process. You can also separate your outdoor and indoor shoes/slippers to reduce the chance of tracking any allergens into the house. Lastly, bathing before bed is a great way to get rid of any other allergens that may be lying in wait (don’t forget to wash you hair too!).
- Keep the bedroom clean. If we keep our bedrooms clean, it goes without saying that we’re less likely to pick up germs and allergens within. Dust mites however are yet another unseen invader which can really cause some trouble (in fact, approximately 20 million Americans are allergic to these guys!). Taking their presence into account, especially during the summer months, you should ideally keep your bedroom cool, dry and free of clutter.Along with that, using organic, anti-microbial sheets and pillowcases, and plastic air-tight barriers for bedding?can do a world of good. Prefer pillows with polyester fibres and wool sheets and blankets as well if possible. Additionally, be sure to wash all bedding in hot water to kill any dust mites that may have congregated there. And what of pets you may ask? Sadly enough, as much as we love our friendly canines and felines, they do carry dirt and dander around with them, and may leave this all over your room. They’ve got to go as well!
- Keep your head high. When having a stuffy or runny nose, the worst thing you can do is try to lie flat. Doing this allows mucus to pool in your sinus cavities and since it can’t drain away, you’ll likely be congested all night. Be reminded as well that if you have any mild inflammation happening in the nostrils, lying down will cause blood in the nose to be more sluggish, which doesn’t help with stuffiness. Keeping your head preferably above the level of your heart can therefore have great benefits when it comes to nasal congestion. Let gravity give you a helping hand in keeping those nasal passages clear!
- Try some steam. Sometimes taking a hot bath before bed can help mitigate congestion. The steam rising within the bath can help to loosen congestion and thus provide some relief. if you don’t have access to hot water in your bath then try picking up some menthol crystals from your local pharmacy. Prepare a basin with some hot water and place it on a table. Sit (or stand) in front of the table with your face over the basin, drape?the towel over your head and toss in a few crystals (not too many!). As they melt, the menthol will mix with the steam which you can then inhale. Incline the head slightly, but do?NOT drop your chin to your chest as though you are looking into the basin! This will only increase the pressure in your sinuses and make your congestion worse.?Simply try to ensure that your head/nose is in the path of the steam. The towel over your head will help to lessen the steam’s escape?and after about 10 minutes you should experience some relief.
- Get a HEPA filter. A?HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter in your bedroom can be of great benefit. Not only does it produce white noise naturally (which can be rather soothing) but, more importantly, it can help to drastically reduce the amount of allergens that may be drifting about unnoticed. Pollen, pet dander, dust and mold are all prime suspects in this equation and an excellent HEPA filter can take care of all of them. When on the lookout for one, be sure to take into account not just your bedroom but also your community. Many filters can remove particulate matter as small as 0.3 microns with around 99% efficiency. In communities however that may be within close proximity of industrial plants or highways, it may be good to utilise filters that have ultra-fine barriers (only letting through particles of up to 0.1 micron in size). This make sense since the level of pollutants, toxins and allergens circulating naturally may be somewhat higher in those environments (and it’s not unlikely that respiratory illnesses may have increased frequency as well).
- Skip alcohol and caffeine before bed. Alcohol and caffeine have one thing in common–they can both cause dehydration. While under ordinary conditions most of us can cope with this, when you’re already faced with existing sinus pain and nasal congestion, they can actually make matters worse. Try limiting your caffeine intake to mornings and afternoons only, opting for herbal teas (especially if you can have one that also has stinging nettle as one of its ingredients). I would also recommend skipping that nightcap since alcohol can not only disturb your sleep but also aggravate any congestion you may already be experiencing.
And there you have it ladies and gents–some quick, reliable and proven methods for improving your sleep even in the face of nasal congestion. Whether you are prone to allergies, or just having a simple cold, it’s best to integrate most of these into your lifestyle as part of your sleep hygiene.
How did you cope the last time you were stuffed up before bed? Would you like to add anything to our list above? Please feel free to contribute your opinion on the comments below!
Sleep well until next time.
All of these are great remedies and tips, I am also well aware of the troubles people can face with nasal congestion. It can really make for a miserable night without the right kind of treatment and/or medication. Very informative post–will keep this bookmarked so that I can remember to follow these tips, thanks for sharing.
Hi Deep, as you correctly say, nasal congestion can certainly get in the way of a good night’s sleep. Do visit again for more tips on how to breathe better at night!
Great information! Do you know any foods that help clear up nasal congestion when sleeping?
Hey Maxine, thanks for reading. There are tons of foods that can help with nasal congestion, but naturally the result may not be immediate. Pineapples, peppers and ginger are the ones that come immediately to mind. I often have ginger tea before bed time and it works wonders for me!
Hey Josh. Very interestesting article. Simple solutions indeed most of them common sense. I had a nasal congestion the last time about a month ago and as usual it was very annoying because I couldn’t get some rest although was very tired at the time and needed to get to work in the morning. Because the air in the room was very dry and hot I’ve been using for a while now normal ceramic humidifiers to get some humidity in the air. Thank you for the info.
Hey Nick, using a humidifier is a great idea to help clear up congestion. Hope you’re sleeping a lot better now!
With the summer months coming up, unfortunately, I am a sufferer of hayfever. It definitely affects my sleep on high pollen days aswell. I love the abundance of information its great to know something as simple as keeping your room clean can help. I used to use the nasal saline sprays but had to stop because they kept giving me headaches, is this normal?
Hey Kourtney, thanks for reading. I don’t think it’s normal that a nasal saline spray should give you a headache…in fact it should help to relieve them (if they’re being caused by sinus pressure). I’d say it’s worth having a conversation with your physician or ENT about! If you’re using a nasal spray that contains a steroid however, then in some cases these have been known to trigger migraines with repeated use.
Thanks for this great article Josh. One question pops to mind. Given your comment on steam, does it make any sense to consider a humidifier as well? I know if I end up breathing through my mouth I always also end up with a sore throat, often because of the dry air where I live. Will a more humid/moist environment help in any other ways?
Hey Craig, you raise a good point. A humidifier is a perfect addition especially in hot/cold arid conditions (a combo that also does air purification is recommended.). As to whether or not a more humid environment may always be better, that depends. Too much humidity may actually promote a runny nose, so striking a balance is important.
I find that for me my stuffy nose is usually triggered when I don’t dust my bedroom furniture frequently (especially the bedhead). This is when I find it hard to sleep. Using a saline nasal spray and an extra pillow to keep my head up does help me get through the night. I think it must be the dust mites. I try not to keep anything under my bed and vacuum under there as often as I can.
Yeah, I have terrible sensitivity to dust myself. Our bedroom is a bit small though so it becomes cluttered easily…it’s a bit of a struggle sometimes! If you’re having dust mites don’t forgot to use barrier covers–those can be pretty effective.
Wow! Interesting information. This provides some revealing insight into some practical steps I can take to correct this issue when next it happens to me! Thank you.
I’m glad you found it helpful Chris!
Good advice. I read somewhere that acupuncture is another way to solve sinus problems. I am so glad that my sinus problems have diminished over the years. I don’t know what did it but I don’t suffer from them anymore.
I wish I had your luck Ronnie! Didn’t realise that acupuncture was actually a good way to solve sinus congestion–I just had to look it up. The results in the studies I found have been pretty amazing so perhaps I’ll do an article about that at a later date.