You’re in the middle of restful snooze when that annoying hacking jolts you awake. You can’t help but wonder, why now? Coughing up mucus isn’t fun any time, but it’s especially bothersome when it interferes with much needed sleep. Learning more about the causes of nighttime coughing and ways to address your symptoms can help turn those disruptions around.
The main reason you’re likely to cough more at night comes a science class basic: the law of gravity. When you lay down, mucus naturally starts to pool in your throat purely because of your position. This causes the coughing reflex to kick in, as a means of moving that mucus out.
Frequent acid reflux, also known as GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is common, affecting up to seven percent of the population. Acid from your stomach moves back up into your esophagus, causing coughing and other symptoms, such as heartburn, bad breath and a chronic sore throat. For most people with GERD, these symptoms increase while sleeping or trying to sleep. Lying down after eating is one potential reason, especially if you've eaten foods that may trigger flare-ups, such as spicy or acidic items
The air you breathe at night can also worsen a wet cough. This is because a dry environment can exacerbate an already irritated throat and nose and prevent mucus from loosening. When mucus gathers in your throat, rather than moving freely, it may start to clog your airways causing you to cough. These issues are particularly common during winter months, especially if you live in a cooler climate.
While there’s no instant fix for coughing up mucus at night, you can take steps to improve your symptoms.
- Use an extra pillow. Propping your head and neck up a bit counteracts the gravitational pull that allows mucus to pool in your throat.
- Avoid eating right before bed if you're prone to acid reflux. This is especially true for hefty portions or foods that tend to trigger your symptoms.
- Take a steamy shower before bed. Warm mist can help ease mucus and cough symptoms by creating a moister environment.
- Use a humidifier. You can also add moisture to the air you breathe in with a humidifier, which releases steam. For best results and safety, follow product instructions and keep the device clean.
- Take an expectorant. Mucinex® DM can help by thinning and loosening mucus, minimizing chest congestion and the urge to cough for up to 12 hours.
- Stay well-hydrated. Drinking water and other fluids, such as broth or caffeine-free herbal tea, can help reduce dryness that may contribute to nighttime coughing.
- If your symptoms do not improve over a week or worsen suddenly, please consult a physician.