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Silent nights

When you’re trying to get rid of a cough, one of the biggest obstacles can be the vicious cycle created by night-time coughing; you need sleep to fight the infection but the cough won’t let you sleep.

It’s bad enough when it’s you, but when it’s your child suffering, a cough can mean the end of a good night’s sleep for more than one family member. Luckily there are a few ways you can help your little one feel better at bedtime.


Keep your child hydrated with lots of fluids

As with any illness, it’s important that your child stays hydrated. Good hydration helps soothe the airways and dilutes the mucus, making it easier to cough it out.1,2

Drinking fluids also keeps the throat moist, which can help calm tickles and prevent them flaring into full-blown coughs.2 Keep a bottle of water by your child’s bed so that they can keep hydrated during the night.


Clear that congestion

If your child is coughing as a result of congestion, try clearing their respiratory passages before sleep. Older children can use a saline spray or similar to wash out their sinuses, helping prevent secretions passing through to the back of the throat. For younger children, use a nasal aspirator (a small bulb-like syringe) to suck the mucus out of the nose.1

When lying horizontal, mucus can collect at the back of the throat, causing a cough and/or a sore throat. Try propping your child up on pillow to prevent this.


Create some atmosphere

Coughs can also be triggered in the absence of mucus – we’ve all experienced the dry, irritating cough that just won’t go away. One effective way of soothing a cough like this is to maintain a warm, humid atmosphere in the bedroom.2,4

A room humidifier is the easiest method to use as it allows you to set relative humidity – around 30% is ideal.2,4 Always check that your humidifier is clean and doesn’t have any traces of mould.3 If you don’t have a humidifier, you can try running a hot shower to fill your bathroom with steam and sitting there for short periods.2


Avoid exposure to other irritants

Coughs can have a range of triggers, from perfume to pet hair. You should try to eliminate anything that may irritate your child’s cough. Two examples are removing spray type air fresheners (you can replace them with solid air fresheners) and ensuring that all surfaces are free from dust.2

You should seek medical advice if your child’s cough persists for about three weeks or more.5  

In most cases, however, getting well requires a lot of rest and recuperation. With these tips, and the right treatment when needed, your child can get the good quality sleep they need in order to fight the infection and kick their cough.

  1. Innes Asher M and Grant CC. In: Max Taussig L and Landau LI. Pediatric Respiratory Medicine 2012; Chapter 32:453-480.
  2. Carroll P. What nurses know and doctors don't have time to tell you. 2004; 91-126.
  3. The National Sleep Foundation. 6 Ways to sleep off a cold. Available at: Last accessed Jun 2019.
  4. Eagle S. Diseases in a flash! An interactive, flash-card approach. Childhood Diseases and Disorders 2011; 46-83.
  5. NHS. What can cause a cough? Available at: Last accessed 2017.