There's nothing worse than trying to sleep when you have a stuffy nose. A blocked nose can mess with your sleep, but there are simple ways to deal with this issue, so you can breathe better and get a more restful sleep. Read on to learn tips for sleeping well with a stuffy nose.
A stuffy nose occurs when the tissues inside the nose become swollen due to inflamed blood vessels.
A stuffy nose is often worse at night for various reasons, including gravity, allergies caused by dust mites in pillows and mattresses, changes in blood flow, reduced cortisol levels, and worsening acid reflux.
A stuffy nose can significantly impact someone’s sleep quality. It can also induce snoring and sleep apnea.
Tips for improving nasal congestion include avoiding potential triggers, sleeping with your head propped up, wearing nasal strips, using a humidifier, and drinking lots of fluids during the day.
Sleeping with a stuffy nose
Trying to sleep with a stuffy nose can be a nightmare. You turn from side to side in bed, but nothing seems to work. Then, you start lifting your head in the hope of breathing better until you have no pillows and cushions left.
Sometimes, the only way to feel better is to jump out of bed to catch some air — it’s the worst.
Causes of a stuffy nose at night
A stuffy nose (or nasal congestion) occurs when the tissues inside the nose become swollen due to inflamed blood vessels. Sometimes, a stuffy nose can come with a runny nose. The swelling and mucus can clog up the nostrils, making breathing difficult.
Nasal congestion can be caused by many things, like the common cold, flu, allergies, and sinus infection. What’s interesting is that this congestion typically gets worse at night. Here’s why:
- Gravity. When you're upright, gravity helps mucus flow from your nose to the back of your throat. But when you’re lying in bed, gravity acts against you. Sometimes, that can cause mucus to build up in your nose, making breathing hard.
- Allergies. Linked to inflammation and swelling of body tissues. The tissue lining inside the nose gets swollen, resulting in a stuffy nose. This often occurs at night due to dust mites in pillows and mattresses. Plus, certain airborne allergens like pollen tend to settle in the cooler nighttime temperatures.
- Changes in blood flow. When lying down, there’s an increased blood flow to the upper half of the body, including the head and nostrils. This results in greater pressure, triggering inflammation, swelling, mucus production, and a blocked nose.
- Cortisol levels. A hormone that helps regulate how the body responds to stress. Cortisol levels are typically highest in the early morning and decline through the day, reaching the lowest levels around midnight. Decreased cortisol levels at night can worsen symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections such as the common cold, influenza, and COVID-19. These conditions are all known to cause a stuffy nose.
- Acid reflux. The backflow of acid from the stomach into the esophagus. Most people feel that their acid reflux worsens when they go to bed. This is because when you’re standing or sitting upright, gravity helps keep stomach acid in the stomach, but when you’re lying down, this natural barrier is compromised. What does this have to do with nasal congestion? Research has found a link between acid reflux and nasal issues like rhinitis and sinusitis. It seems that stomach acid can travel up into your nose and sinuses, especially when lying down, causing irritation and inflammation in your nasal passages.
How does a stuffy nose impact your sleep quality?
A stuffy nose is not only annoying, but it can significantly impact your sleep quality. In a 2019 study, 400 women completed a questionnaire regarding their sleep quality and nasal symptoms. They also had their sleep parameters analyzed in a sleep study.
The findings of this study indicated that women who had a blocked nose at night reported higher levels of daytime sleepiness. They also mentioned other symptoms, such as difficulty falling and staying asleep and waking up gasping for breath. However, when their sleep was measured objectively, it appeared normal.
Studies have also found that sleeping with a congested nose can induce obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) in otherwise healthy adults. This happens because when your nose is blocked, you end up breathing through your mouth. This results in an increase in airway resistance and snoring.
Steps to alleviate nasal congestion before bedtime
Having your nose constantly stuffy at night can be a real pain, but the good news is that there are measures you can take to address this issue. At the end of the day, treating a stuffy nose is more than just improving your breathing; it is about ensuring you get a restful night's sleep.
That being said, here are a few tips to improve nighttime nasal congestion:
- Avoid potential triggers. If you’re allergic to things like pollen, dust, pet dander, mold, smoke, and cleaning products, it's best to steer clear of them. Avoiding congestion triggers during the day may help keep your nose clear at night.
- Elevate your head. Some find that raising their heads while sleeping can ease nasal congestion. This is because lying down makes the problem worse due to changes in blood flow in this position. You can use a wedge pillow to prop up your head or just stack a couple of regular pillows.
- Give nasal strips a try. Nasal strips are flexible bands that you place on your nose to keep the nasal passages open. They help improve airflow and may relieve nasal congestion.
- Consider nasal irrigation. Rinsing each nostril with salt water can help clear some of the mucus that is clogging your nose and making it stuffy. Do this cleaning once or twice a day to keep your nostrils hydrated and reduce mucus buildup.
- Have a humidifier in your bedroom. If you’re dealing with a stuffy nose at night, the humidifier can be your best friend. It keeps the air moist, preventing your nose from irritation and stuffiness.
- Keep yourself hydrated. Drinking plenty of fluids helps thin mucus and drain it from the sinuses to relieve congestion.
- Consider medications. Some medications can help relieve nasal congestion, but the choice of medication depends on what’s causing the congestion. Your doctor can help determine the most suitable treatment. The most widely used medications for nasal congestion are antihistamines, which are used to relieve allergy symptoms. Another option is nasal steroids, which help reduce inflammation and mucus, so you can breathe better. Decongestants can also be used to reduce inflammation in the nasal passages. However, they can raise blood pressure. Because of this, doctors usually recommend decongestants only after other treatments have been ineffective.
Sleeping with a stuffy nose can be highly unpleasant, but there are simple measures you can take to address the problem and get a more restful sleep. If you've tried everything and your stuffy nose just won't give you a break, seek medical attention. Your doctor can suggest the right treatment based on what's causing your stuffy nose.
Is it dangerous to sleep with a blocked nose?
No. Sleeping with a blocked nose is not necessarily dangerous as your body will switch to mouth breathing. However, sleeping with a stuffy nose can be uncomfortable and can disrupt your sleep.
What side should you sleep on with a stuffy nose?
If your nose is blocked, it is recommended to sleep on your back with your head elevated. However, if your blocked nose is caused by acid reflux, sleeping on your left side may be a good option.
When should I go to the doctor for a stuffy nose?
It's recommended to seek medical attention if, besides a stuffy nose, you’re also experiencing symptoms like fever, sore throat, blurred vision, nasal discharge that isn't yellow or white, the presence of yellow or white spots in the throat or on the tonsils, or if you have a mucus-producing cough lasting for more than 10 days.
- BMC Pulmonary Medicine. Gastritis and gastroesophageal reflux disease are strongly associated with non-allergic nasal disorders.
- European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology. Impact of nasal obstruction on sleep quality: a community-based study of women.
- Dove Press. Does Nasal Obstruction Induce Obstructive Sleep Apnea in Healthy Women?
- European Respiratory Journal. The nose and OSA: variable nasal obstruction may be more important in pathophysiology than fixed obstruction.
- Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology. Effects of nasal dilator strips on subjective measures of sleep in subjects with chronic nocturnal nasal congestion: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial.