Coughing is your body's way of clearing your lungs and airways of irritants such as mucus, bacteria, and toxins. This can often creep up on you just before bedtime.
If you, your partner or your kids are suffering with sleepless nights because of an uncontrollable cough, don’t despair, we’ve put together a few ideas that may help.
What can cause night time coughing?
There are many reasons why you might be struck with a bout of night time coughing and identifying exactly what is causing yours will be to key to treating it.
According to the NHS, a cough is usually nothing to worry about and can be attributed to five common reasons.1 They are:
- An infection – If you’ve got a cold, the flu or a respiratory infection such as bronchitis, coughing is a common symptom.
- Asthma – As asthma can restrict the airways and make them feel inflamed, a dry cough is not unusual.
- Indigestion – Coughing, along with a burning sensation in the chest, is a common symptom of heartburn.
- An allergy – Coughing is a primary symptom of various allergies, especially dust allergies, hay fever or pet allergies.
- Smoking – Long-term smokers will often have a persistent, chesty cough which should slowly go away if you decide to quit.
What causes a night time tickly cough?
Coughing is a natural response your body has to remove irritants from your airways.
A tickly cough is caused by inflammation in the upper airways of the respiratory tract. This inflammation causes a tickly sensation which will make you cough even when you don’t have enough mucus in your lungs.
This inflammation is often caused by viral infections. If this is the case, the tickly cough may be accompanied by the symptoms of the flu or a cold.
A tickly cough may also be caused by atmospheric conditions such as pollution, dry air, or a sudden change in the temperature.
What causes uncontrollable coughing at night?
As mentioned earlier, the NHS states that there are 5 common reasons why you may be coughing at night.
However, a consistent cough may be a sign of something more serious – and it's recommended that if your cough lasts longer than 3-5 weeks then you should seek advice from your GP.2
What about coughing in your sleep?
Coughing can often become worse at night because you are lying flat in bed.
Mucus can gather in the back of the throat, which causes coughing. Sleeping with your head elevated can help postnasal drip and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which both cause coughing at night.
Can hayfever cause cough at night?
According to NHS guidance on hay fever, it's feasible to think that the symptoms of hay fever may cause you to have a cough.3
This would usually occur between March and September when the pollen count is at its highest and it’s warm, humid and windy.
- There are five common reasons that you might be suffering from a cold at night
- If your cold persists for longer than three to five weeks it might be worth contacting your GP
Five ways to stop coughing at night
While most coughs usually clear up on their own within a few weeks, you might be able to speed them along. Why not consider:
Purchasing a humidifier
The dry, hot air that comes out of heaters can cause havoc with your airways if you have a cough. Instead, make sure the air is kept moist in your bedroom while you sleep by buying a humidifier (also known as an air vaporiser) which works by pumping a thin mist around the room.4 You could even add a few drops of peppermint oil to the water in your humidifier.5
Drinking hot honey and lemon
Before bed, try sipping on some hot honey and lemon. Honey has antibacterial properties and may help a sore throat, while lemon juice is a great source of vitamin C4. Alternatively, try taking a spoonful of manuka honey every day or sucking on lozenges containing honey or bee pollen.
Elevating yourself as you sleep
Many people often cough at night as lying horizontally allows mucus to flow more freely to the back of the throat and, consequently, irritate it. When you go to bed, try propping yourself up with an extra pillow.
Cleaning your bedroom
Dust mites and pet hair will definitely increase the likelihood of your night time coughing if it’s being caused by an allergy. To lower the risk, make sure your bedroom is cleaned regularly, you change your bedding every one to two weeks and that you don’t let your pets sleep in the same room as you.
Breathing through your nose
When you’re trying to fall asleep, make sure you inhale and exhale through your nose (if it’s not blocked) instead of your mouth. This will put less stress on your throat if it’s sore and help keep it moist if you suffer with a dry cough.6
How do I know if my cough is serious?
If you’re unable to conquer your night time coughing or your cough has been around for longer than three weeks, consider seeing your GP as they may be able to prescribe you something, especially if you have a bacterial infection.
Note that coughing accompanied by a high fever, vomiting, bloody phlegm or breathing difficulties can be a sign of a much more serious health condition.
Seek medical attention immediately if you or your children experience more than one of these symptoms.
Last updated: 03 May 2021