21 Easy Tips for Sleeping with a Stuffy Nose

Medically Reviewed By Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
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Trying to sleep with a congested nose can be difficult. But several remedies, such as spicy foods, staying hydrated, and medications may be helpful.

a person is lying in bed blowing their nose
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Sinus congestion is a common problem that stems from several conditions, including allergies, viral illnesses, or sinus problems.

Read on to discover multiple ways you may find relief from your stuffy nose and get back to sleep.

1. Prop yourself up

Propping the head of your bed up puts gravity on your side and may help your sinuses drain more easily. Add bricks, boards, or books under your mattress to raise the head several inches.  

2. Use a humidifier

Humidifiers add moisture to the air, which may have a soothing effect on your sinuses. This may also reduce inflammation and thin your mucus, making it easier to drain. 

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the care and cleaning of your humidifier to reduce the possibility of mold spreading. 

Read more about when to use humidifiers.

3. Don’t blow your nose

Blowing your nose may cause more irritation and swelling in your sinuses. This may make it more difficult to breathe through your nose. 

Instead, try to blow gently or dab your nose with a clean tissue. Discard used tissues in the trash right away and wash your hands.

4. Find acupressure points

A 2022 study looked at the effects of acupressure on sinus congestion. Study participants were split into two groups. One group received nightly acupressure for 4 weeks, while the other did not. 

After the study, the group who received the acupressure reported much greater reductions in sinus congestion than those who did not. 

5. Stay hydrated

Drinking enough water while congested helps keep your mucus thinner. Thin mucus drains more easily, making it easier to breathe.

Sipping warm liquids such as broth and tea can also help keep you hydrated

6. Eat some spicy food

Eating spicy food can make your nose run. This same idea may help when you are experiencing congestion. 

Try eating some spicy food to help your mucus drain and make your breathing easier. 

7. Take decongestant medication

Several over-the-counter (OTC) decongestant medications can provide short-term relief from congestion. However, do not take them longer than 3 days as it can have the opposite effect. 

Examples include:

  • pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)
  • oxymetazoline (Claratin, Drixoral)
  • phenylephrine (Sudafed PE)

8. Take NSAID medications

Although pain relievers such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may not help ease congestion, they may help relieve other symptoms that often accompany runny noses, such as: 

Common NSAIDs include ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin. 

Children under 18 should never take aspirin. However, most of the other NSAID medications are safe.

9. Try a menthol lozenge

Menthol is a natural ingredient taken from peppermint oil that may help decrease your nasal congestion. Sucking on a menthol lozenge may give you a cooling effect in your sinuses and help you breathe easier.  

10. Avoid alcohol before bed

Drinking alcohol has a dehydrating effect. When you are dehydrated, your body has a harder time clearing mucus. Alcohol may also interfere with any medications you are taking.

It is best to avoid alcohol while you are sick. 

11. Avoid caffeine before bed

Caffeinated beverages cause frequent urination and losing more water from your body. 

To stay hydrated and keep your mucus thinner, limit caffeinated beverages to the morning so you can rehydrate throughout the day. Drinking caffeine later in the day can also make sleeping difficult.

12. Avoid allergens

Allergies happen when your body’s immune system overreacts to something that is typically harmless for most people. Some reactions are mild. Others can be severe.

Common allergens include:

  • pollen
  • house dust mites
  • dander from pets and farm animals
  • certain fragrances
  • mold

If you have a chronic stuffy nose, try reducing your exposure to allergens.

Learn more about nasal allergies

13. Gargle salt water

Gargling with warm salt water may help reduce inflammation in your throat and get rid of any virus. 

Add half a teaspoon of salt to 8 ounces of warm water and stir. Gargle the mixture at the back of your throat for several seconds. 

14–15. Hot shower or steam

Taking a hot shower and trapping the steam is one type of steam therapy that may help moisturize your sinuses and decrease congestion. Try running a hot shower for a few minutes while you inhale the steam.

Another option is to add hot water and lean over the bowl while covering your head with a towel to trap the steam. You can also add peppermint, chamomile, or menthol to the water. 

16. Use an oil diffuser

Essential oils have properties that can help ease upper respiratory issues. Using a diffuser in your home may relieve congestion and help you sleep comfortably. Common essential oils for this purpose include:

  • peppermint
  • eucalyptus 
  • tea tree 
  • thyme

Follow the diffuser’s directions to diffuse oils and clean the unit. 

Learn more about aromatherapy

17. Try a saline rinse

A saline rinse may help remove congestion and make breathing easier. 

Neti pots are like small teapots with long spouts that people use to rinse their sinuses. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) say they are safe and effective when used correctly. 

Another option is to buy an OTC saline rinse solution. These come in ready-to-use spray bottles. Be sure to use only one bottle per person.

18. Use a corticosteroid nasal spray

Corticosteroid nasal sprays help reduce inflammation in your sinuses when experiencing non-allergy-related congestion such as hay fever or sinusitis

OTC nasal sprays include:

  • budesonide (Rhinocort)
  • fluticasone (Flonase)
  • triamcinolone (Nasacort Allergy 24hr)

Talk with your medical professional about which nasal sprays are safe for children.

19. Take an antihistamine

Antihistamine medications help relieve congestion related to allergy symptoms. These OTC medications come in several forms, including oral tablets, liquids, and nasal sprays.

These medications may make you drowsy and are not for use in children younger than 12. 

Examples of OTC antihistamines include:

  • brompheniramine (Dimetane)
  • cetirizine (Zyrtec)
  • diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • loratadine (Alavert, Claritin)
  • fexofenadine (Allegra)
  • chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton)

20. Try nasal strips

Nasal strips help widen the nasal passages to help you breathe easier. They may help improve your breathing if your nose is stuffy with congestion.

Nasal strips are available OTC at most pharmacies. The packaging includes instructions on applying the nasal strips to the bridge of your nose before bed.

21. Apply chest rubs

Many chest rubs contain menthol, camphor, and eucalyptus. These ingredients may help relieve congestion.

Follow the instructions on how to apply some to your chest before bed. 

Possible underlying conditions and medical treatment

Several conditions can cause sinus congestion. 

Colds and flu

Colds and cases of the flu are viral conditions that affect many people yearly.

Antibiotics do not help with these illnesses, but there are antiviral medications for the flu. Keeping up with your immunizations may also reduce your risk of getting the flu or reduce its severity. 

Deviated septum

A deviated septum is when the wall between the nostrils becomes displaced, usually because of an injury.

Typical treatment includes OTC medications to reduce congestion, nasal strips, and sometimes surgery. 

Acid reflux

Acid reflux is when stomach acid leaks into the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth and stomach. Symptoms include heartburn, a full feeling in the throat, and sinus congestion.

Changing your diet can sometimes help decrease acid reflux. Some medications help reduce acid.

Allergies

Some people experience seasonal allergies when certain plants bloom. Others experience allergens that are always around.

Treatment usually involves medications to reduce congestion and try to avoid allergens.

Summary

Trying to sleep when you cannot breathe through your nose can make sleeping difficult. However, there are medications you can take to decrease your congestion. 

Several natural remedies work, such as diffusing essential oils, elevating the head, and rinsing your sinuses with saline. 

If you frequently experience a stuffy nose, contact a doctor. 

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Medical Reviewer: Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
Last Review Date: 2022 Nov 18
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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