Tips for Sleeping When You're Sick

Coming down with a cold or the flu? When you’re not feeling well, sleep is the great healer. If you are having trouble with a cough, congestion, aches and pains, consider these tips for sleeping when you’re sick.

By Sheryl Grassie

Apr 26th, 2022

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Sleep: The Thing You Need Most

The time that sleep seems the most crucial may be the time it is the most elusive. We know intuitively that a good night’s sleep will help facilitate the healing of our cold or flu, but it is often something that is difficult to come by.

When you feel horrible, you can easily spend the night tossing and turning. As much as your body craves sleep to combat illness, the symptoms of illness can interfere with a good night’s sleep. What can you do to help get sleep when you are sick or under the weather?

Start by taking a look at, inventorying, and assessing your symptoms. Do you have a head cold with stuffy or runny nose? Do you have a cough and chest congestion, with a fever, and aches and pains?

To insure a good night’s rest, you may need to mitigate some or all of your symptoms, and there are a number of different ways to accomplish this.

15 Tips for Sleeping When You’re Sick

Experts suggest getting ready to sleep when you are sick in a variety of ways. Start during the day with general recommendations and do more specific interventions an hour or so before you want to go to bed. Try the following:

  • Act immediately. When you start to feel sick, go home. Don’t power through work or other obligations. Catching your illness early, getting to bed and getting needed rest, will make a difference.
  • Drink lots of fluids. Keeping yourself well hydrated, way in advance of bedtime helps you sleep. A cold or the flu can use up lots of fluids, and having a good supply in your system helps. You also don’t want to wait until close to bedtime to drink fluids or you could be getting up in the night when it is already hard to sleep.
  • Plan you medications. Purchase and plan when to take any over-the-counter medications that you will need to lesson symptoms while sleeping. This includes analgesics for pain and fever, cold and flu remedies to stop nummy nose or fight congestion, lozenges for sore throats, and cough suppressants if needed.
  • Don’t drink any alcohol. The old fashioned hot toddy with brandy and lemon may sound appealing, but alcohol actually disrupts sleep and should be avoided when sick.
  • Set up your room. This involves several things. First, if you sleep with a partner ask him or her to sleep elsewhere or plan to sleep in another room yourself; sleeping alone when you are sick is better for everyone involved. Second, gather everything you will need and have it handy on the bedside table or within reach. Tissues, lozenges, a nasal spray, liquids, other medications, an extra blanket, and extra pillows should all be close by so you don’t have to get out of bed.
  • Practice sleep hygiene. Establish a nightly routine for when you’re sick. Have your room dark and cool. Don’t watch TV or be on a screen for 2 hours before bed. Don’t have any caffeine. Don’t eat after dinner. Do something relaxing like a hot bath before bed.
  • Set up a vaporizer. If you are at all congested, set up a vaporizer in your room. Add eucalyptus or lavender to the steam to help you relax and relieve stuffiness.
  • Eat light. In the animal world, most creatures naturally fast when they are sick. It gives their bodies a chance to focus on healing instead of digesting. This can work for humans too, so stick to light foods like soups or consider going without food for a while.
  • Eat chicken soup. What is it about chicken soup? It does make you feel better and experts believe this is because there are anti-inflammatory properties in the chicken broth that help with pain. It also tastes good and the steam can help with congestion.
  • Drink hot liquids. They work to help you relax, support decongestion, and hydration. Tea with honey, bone broths, or any decaffeinated clear liquids work well.
  • Avoid napping and go to bed early. It helps to keep on your regular sleep schedule as much as possible. Naps can interfere with a good night’s sleep, and although your body needs more sleep to fight illness, it is better to try going to bed earlier to increase sleep rather than napping.
  • Use natural aids. A Neti pot with a saline rinse can help alleviate nasal stuffiness. Water with salt as a gargle can help tame a sore throat. Prop yourself up for sleeping with numerous pillows to stay elevated and minimize congestion.
  • Get up and try later. If you can’t get to sleep, get up and do something, then try again later. You could read in another room, take a bath, or have a hot drink.
  • Use a white noise machine. Sometimes when you are sick, noise is amplified and little things can wake you. Use a fan (not directly on you) or a white noise machine in your room to act as a buffer and help you stay asleep.
  • Don’t take sleeping pills. It might be a great temptation to take something that would just knock you out. Even if you take sleep medication normally, you might want to skip it when you are sick. Sleep medications can adversely interact with cold and flu medications and cause problems that may interfere with sleep. Always check with a professional!