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Cold and Flu Center

Cold Symptoms at Night

author image Elizabeth Moore
Based in Princeton, N.J., Elizabeth Moore has written health-related patient education materials since 1992. She is a registered nurse with more than 15 years of clinical experience. Moore earned an Associate of Applied Science in nursing from Phillips Beth Israel School of Nursing.
Cold Symptoms at Night
Common cold symptoms often seem to intensify at night, disrupting sleep.

More than 200 viruses can cause the common cold, according to MedlinePlus. Colds are prevalent during the winter, and symptoms can be quite uncomfortable, especially at night. Sneezing, stuffy nose and sore throat are common features. Depending on the virus, a person may also experience coughing, headache, sore throat and other pesky symptoms. Cold symptoms often last about a week. One of the most exhausting features of a common cold can be disruption of sleep.

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Postnasal Drip

When the sinuses produce excessive mucus, it can build up where the nasal cavities meet the top of the throat. This can be the source of a sore or irritated throat and runny nose. This postnasal drip can be exacerbated at night, when you try to sleep.


A cough often accompanies a cold, usually because of postnasal drip. Mucus flowing into the nasopharynx can stimulate reflexive coughing, which is disruptive to sleep. Nightime coughing can also be caused by chest congestion and irritation of lower airways.

Nasal Congestion

Nasal congestion can be a real nuisance. Moderate to severe nasal congestion can even make it hard or impossible to breathe through your nose at night. A stuffy nose at night can aggravate the problems of postnasal drip and coughing. When you are sleeping, you're not blowing your nose. Moreover, secretions are collecting in the throat, compounding symptoms.

Sore Throat

One frequent result of postnasal drip is a sore throat. This symptom can be intensified by breathing through an open mouth all night, which can dry the mucus membranes of the mouth and throat. It is often more noticeable upon awaking in the morning. A sore throat at night can be very uncomfortable, especially when you are coughing.

Tips for Helping Nightime Cold Symptoms

To relieve cold symptoms, stay nourished and hydrated during the day. Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. Humidifying the room where you sleep can help loosen secretions and may make it easier to breathe. Elevating the head and upper shoulders with an extra pillow sometimes helps to discourage postnasal drip. A warm cup of decaffeinated tea with honey is said to soothe the throat, as can gargling with a warm saltwater solution before bed. Over-the-counter saline nasal spray can help clear a stuffy nose, making it easier to fall asleep.

Cold Medicines

The American Academy of Family Physicians says that intranasal and oral decongestants can relieve nasal symptoms of the common cold and can be used by adults and adolescents for up to three days. But many popular over-the-counter remedies purported to relieve cold symptoms often do so inconsistently, according to the academy. Some medicated over-the-counter sprays relieve nasal congestion but carry the side effect of rebound congestion. Always check with your doctor before using any medicine for cold symptoms.


See your doctor if you experience symptoms of a cold and also have a fever, unusual coughing, wheezing, chest congestion or painful breathing. See your doctor, too, if cold symptoms seem to worsen during the first week or persist longer than a week. Never use antibiotics to treat a common cold; common colds are caused by viruses. It is really important to wash your hands well when you have a cold to avoid contaminating others. Cover coughs and sneezes with the inside of your elbow and not your hand to avoid spreading germs.

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