You’re already not feeling great. And all you want to do is get a good night’s sleep. But then the coughing starts as soon as you hit the pillow — startling you awake and keeping you up all night.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
If you can’t sleep because of a cough, there are a few things you can do, from taking over-the-counter medication to using a cool-mist humidifier and drinking warm liquids.
Family medicine physician Elizabeth Rainbolt, MD, shares some tips on how to stop coughing at night and when it may be time to see your doctor.
Your cough may be caused by many different factors or medical conditions, like:
Some of these reasons may cause you to experience postnasal drip, which is when mucus runs down the back of your throat. This leads to the urge to cough.
What kind of cough do you have? While the at-home treatments for relieving a cough at night may be the same for both a dry or wet cough, it’s important to know the difference.
“When you’re coughing up mucus or phlegm from your lungs, that’s considered a wet or productive cough,” explains Dr. Rainbolt. “And a dry or non-productive cough is when you cough without bringing up mucus or phlegm.”
Dr. Rainbolt notes that a dry cough can turn into a wet cough over time.
“When you first get a cold, it starts in your nose or sinuses and you have a dry cough,” she adds. “Your cold can work its way into your chest. And then, that’s when your dry cough can develop into a wet cough.”
Regardless of the type of cough you have, it can disrupt your sleep and not give your immune system a chance to heal.
“Your body needs time to heal, you need to be able to get rest,” says Dr. Rainbolt. “And if you’re constantly coughing, you’re interrupting your sleep cycles and you’re not going to be able to get rest to heal. It becomes a troublesome pattern.”
If you have a wet cough, Dr. Rainbolt recommends the following at-home remedies:
You’re more likely to develop a dry cough if you have GERD, asthma or an upper respiratory infection. Many of the same at-home treatments for a wet cough can help a dry cough. In addition, Dr. Rainbolt suggests the following:
While a wet cough and a dry cough are the most common when you’re dealing with a cold, flu or allergies, there are also other types of cough you should be aware of. Those include:
So, you’ve tried the remedies outlined above. But if you’re still wondering how to relieve coughing at night, Dr. Rainbolt says how you sleep can also affect your cough.
Should you use certain sleep positions to stop coughing?
Yes, says Dr. Rainbolt.
“Elevating your head is probably the best sleeping position,” she notes. “Whether it’s by adding another pillow or raising the head of your bed, this can help your cough by not allowing drainage to collect at the back of your throat too much.”
Make sure you don’t elevate your head too much, as that may cause neck pain.
And if you’re dealing with a dry cough, sleeping on your side instead of your back can help minimize irritation.
For whatever kind of cough you have, lying flat on your back can worsen postnasal drip.
You may not want to bother your doctor if you have a cough, but Dr. Rainbolt says that if it goes on for more than a week, it’s a good idea to reach out.
And you should reach out to your doctor sooner if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms:
When you see your doctor, they’ll listen to your lungs, look at your throat and ears, and check your oxygen levels. If it’s been a persistent cough, your doctor may also consider a chest X-ray, which can show any signs of pneumonia or other infections.
“There are a lot of reasons you may have a cough, so don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor if you have concerns,” encourages Dr. Rainbolt. “We can discuss symptoms and come up with a treatment plan that brings you some relief.”