Dealing with a cough is bad enough during the day. But anyone who’s ever had a cold, the flu, or allergies knows that the hacking can get even worse at night—keeping you tossing and turning when you could really use that extra shuteye to, you know, recover.
But let’s back up. “When you cough, your body is responding to some type of irritant in your throat or airway, whether it be an allergen like dust or mucus in your throat from a cold,” Diondra Atoyebi, DO, a Georgia-based family medicine physician at Piedmont Physicians Monroe Family Practice, tells Health. Coughing at night is super common, and it’s caused by those same irritants.
Why you’re coughing at night
A worsening nighttime cough may happen simply because of how you’re positioned. “When you lie down, you lose the effects of gravity that were present while you were standing,” Kathleen Dass, MD, of the Michigan Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Center, tells Health. That prone position makes it harder for your body to keep your airways clear.
If you have postnasal drip from a cold or the flu, “laying down can allow the mucus drainage to slide down into your throat, which will active your coughing reflex,” says Dr. Dass. “If you have acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), that loss of gravity means the acid can come back up your esophagus, which can make you cough.”
Besides a cold, the most common causes of chronic nighttime coughing are GERD, postnasal drip, and asthma, says Dr. Dass. That worsening effect, though, could be due simply to your environment. “Dry air, like in the winter, can irritate your nose, throat, and airway, making it itchy and naturally making you want to cough,” says Dr. Atoyebi. Outside air coming from an open window can trigger asthma symptoms, and allergic reactions to dust mites in mattresses or pillows can keep you coughing into the wee hours, too.