When you’re sick, there’s almost no better cure than getting plenty of rest. But here’s the crux. Figuring out how to sleep with a stuffy nose from a cold, sinus infection, or allergies can be really challenging.
To discover what cures work best, we surveyed 1,000 people and asked, “When you have a stuffy nose that interrupts your sleep, what remedies do you reach for?”. Many of our respondents use pretty typical treatments, like OTC medications, nasal sprays, elevating the head, and nose blowing. But by far the most interesting answers we got were some of their congestion home remedies. So we had to ask – do some of these actually work? Here’s what science has to say.
Congestion home remedies that work
Some of our respondents’ home remedy answers were spot on. Here are the top responses we received for the best ways to sleep with congestion without compromising good sleep.
Drinking a cup of hot tea can break up mucus to help you breathe better. Plus, caffeine-free options can help you unwind mentally and physically before going to bed. And luckily, there are several different types of tea known to promote restful sleep so finding one you enjoy is easy. According to the Sleep Foundation, valerian root, chamomile, lavender, and lemon balm are just a few options that can help you breathe better and power down for the evening.
Humidifiers are plug-in devices that add moisture to the air. Dry climates can worsen congestion by causing irritation and inflammation in the nasal passages. And when your respiratory system is moist, it’s better equipped to fight off bacteria and viruses. Therefore, keeping the humidity in your bedroom a little higher while you’re sick can be a good practice.
Supplements from natural sources can help clear congestion. In our survey, bromelain and elderberry were among the top responses. Let’s take a look at why these two may help congestion:
- Bromelain is derived from the pineapple plant. As a supplement known to reduce pain and swelling, it has a variety of uses. It has been studied and shown to reduce the symptoms of sinusitis by opening up the nasal passages.
- Elderberry is derived from a flowering medicinal plant and has been used for centuries to treat a variety of ailments. When taken in capsule form, it’s been shown to lessen the severity of cold and flu symptoms.
Vitamin C and zinc were also supplements commonly used by our survey participants. While both of these nutrients may be beneficial in boosting your immune system and chances of getting a cold or flu, there’s actually not much they can do for you once you’re already sick. Bottom line – there are better cures to reach for if you’re looking to clear up your congestion.
Supplements are widely accessible and may be a good option when you’re sick. But keep in mind that it’s still a good idea to check with your doctor before starting any kind of new supplement or vitamin.
Our respondents’ answers often included recommendations for essential oils. While there are dozens of options out there, peppermint, menthol, and tea tree varieties have been shown to reduce sinus swelling and inflammation (and were among some of the top suggestions in our survey). Peppermint and tea tree oils may even fight bacteria, helping to treat not just your symptoms but the root cause too.
To use essential oils, it’s best to either inhale them directly or add them to steam, a diffuser, or a hot bath.
Hot soup or broth
Similar to how hot tea works, the heat of a warm soup or broth can promote clearer sinuses. Also, since soup is a lighter food option, it should be easy on your stomach if you’re also experiencing not-so-fun digestive upset that can come with a flu. Easy-to-digest foods are also the perfect thing to reach for right before bedtime, because they won’t overwork your metabolism as you’re trying to wind down for the evening.
And if you want to kick it up a notch, trading your chicken noodle soup for a nutrient-dense bone broth (a common response in our survey) can have additional benefits. It’s simple to make and is generally rich in calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus. Plus, the amino acids in it have been shown to reduce – you guessed it – inflammation from sinusitis. This means a good, warm bone broth is one of the best things you can consume while sick.
Congestion home remedies that don’t work
While our survey participants gave us several scientifically proven remedies to help ease congestion before bed, there were also a few misses.If one of these home remedies is currently working for you, more power to you! We don’t want you to try and fix what’s not broken. But if you're hoping to try something new for your stuffy nose at nighttime, it’s probably best to steer clear of the methods listed below.
More specifically, some of our participants cited mixing up a hot toddy to help clear their congestion. And many of the ingredients in one – hot water, lemon, and honey – seem like the perfect thing to help ease cold or flu symptoms. The problem with this cocktail is the whiskey (or any alcohol, for that matter). Even small doses of alcohol can cause blood vessels to widen, worsening your stuffy nose.
Additionally, consuming alcohol at nighttime can lead to disruptions in sleep quality because the body will take several hours to metabolize it. This is why drinking before bed is often discouraged.
In actuality, spicy food can help clear a stuffy nose. The chemical capsaicin, which is found in many spicy foods like peppers, will cause your eyes to water and your nose to run. This is your body’s attempt to “wash away” the offensive flavor it’s just encountered. And when it comes to congestion, this can be a good tactic to start opening up your nasal passages.
However, an extra spicy meal within a few hours of going to bed should be avoided. Although you might get a bit of congestion relief from it, these kinds of foods can upset your digestion and cause heartburn or acid reflux (which gets worse when you lie down to sleep). If you ask us, there are better ways to clear up a stuffy nose without risking poor quality sleep at a time when you desperately need it!
When it comes to loosening mucus and opening nasal passages, it's a good rule of thumb to keep the air around you warm and moist. Cold temperatures might sometimes cause your nose to run, but that cold air you’re breathing in often leads to dry nostrils that are more susceptible to viruses. And if you’re already sick, dryness can further irritate a sore throat or stuffy nose.
This answer was among the more obscure responses we got. But we wondered, why do people think onions will cure their congestion? Turns out it’s a home remedy that people have been using for centuries, often in the form of onion water or tea.
Aside from being a rather unpleasant way to get rid of a cold, there is no scientific evidence that backs up this so-called remedy. We all know that chopping an onion can cause your eyes and nose to become misty, but that side effect is short-lived and not something to rely on for long-term congestion relief.
Cannabis enthusiasts will often promote it as a cure-all for anything and everything. While marijuana has been shown to have some medicinal use cases, there is little to no evidence showing that it can cure a cold or lessen the symptoms. Some even argue that smoking weed can worsen respiratory issues and should be avoided if you have a cough or congestion.