Sleeping when you have a cold

Sleep is the best medicine - but sleeping well when you have a fever, a runny nose or a strong cough is not that easy. Find out here how you can sleep restfully despite an acute cold and support your immune system in the fight against pathogens.

Table of Contents

  1. Cold & Sleep
  2. This is how cold symptoms disrupt sleep
  3. Tips for a good night's sleep despite a cold
    1. Optimal sleeping conditions
    2. The correct sleeping position
    3. Peace & relaxation
    4. Preparation & getting in the mood for sleep
    5. Exercise, fresh air & daylight
  4. Tips for the immune system while you sleep
  5. Conclusion

1. Cold & Sleep

Especially in the cold, wet winter months, bacteria, viruses and other pathogens have an easy time of it and we suffer more from colds or flu-like infections. So it's time to ensure a strong immune system in order to stay healthy and productive even in the dark winter. To develop strong immune systems, it is important to sleep enough and well. Especially in the deep sleep phases that occur more frequently at the beginning of our sleep, the natural number of defense cells in the body increases and the immune system works at full speed to render invading pathogens harmless. Lack of sleep, on the other hand, is harmful to your health. The saying “sleep is the best medicine” is no coincidence!

Schlaf & Immunsystem: Steigendes Krankheitsrisiko bei Schlafmangel

Of course, we can't always prevent getting a cold or flu. When we suffer from classic cold symptoms such as a runny nose, cough, sore throat or fever, it is often impossible to even think about the urgently needed sleep. Blocked airways, coughing or pain stimuli make breathing difficult and mean stress for the body and brain. So falling asleep becomes a challenge or we keep waking up from sleep during the night - even though this is urgently needed to strengthen the immune system and ensure a quick recovery. So what can we do to sleep well despite annoying cold symptoms?

2. This is how cold symptoms disrupt sleep

The most common complaints include impairment of breathing and airways, for example due to a runny nose, cough and sore throat, irritation of the mucous membranes or the formation of mucus in the airways. Particularly in winter, dry heating air damages the mucous membranes of the nose, mouth and throat and inhibits their natural defense mechanisms, making it easier for bacteria and viruses to multiply. It also dries out already irritated tissue or increases mucus formation, which in turn clogs the airways and makes breathing more difficult while sleeping. This can make it difficult to fall asleep, promote snoring and prevent you from sleeping through the night due to pauses in breathing or a dry cough.

But increased body temperature, headaches or body aches as well as psychological stress due to exhaustion or overtiredness can also stand in the way of a restful sleep during a cold. Because fever or chills irritate the nervous system, aching limbs prevent a relaxed sleeping position and the famous carousel of thoughts disrupts the process of falling asleep.

3. Tips for a good night's sleep despite a cold

#1 Suitable sleeping conditions (room climate)

A cool room temperature between 16 and 18 degrees Celsius and a humidity of 40% - 60% are considered the optimal sleeping environment. Try to ventilate thoroughly before going to bed or increase the humidity by using humidifiers, water bowls or diffusers. Certain fragrances or essential aromas, for example chamomile, eucalyptus or lavender, can have an additional calming effect on the mucous membranes and contribute to a pleasant sleeping environment that supports sleep.

Schlafklima: Düfte und hohe Luftfeuchtigkeit im Schlafzimmer

#2 The correct sleeping position

Especially if you have a bad cold or dry cough, you should try to keep your head a little higher at night and sleep on your back. This reduces pressure on the chest and sinuses and allows nasal mucus to drain away, preventing pressure-related headaches and making breathing easier during sleep.

#3 Peace & Relaxation

Our body needs a lot of energy to fight the pathogens inside - this leads to stress not only mentally but also physically and prevents us from sleeping peacefully. Rest and relaxation are therefore more important than ever in order to calm the always active and overstimulated nervous system and enable a restful sleep. Therefore, avoid particularly strong, demanding activities and strong distractions and also avoid strong visual stimuli before sleep, such as television or computer games.

#4 Attunement to sleep

Junge Frau atmet Wasserdampf gegen Erkältung

Get in the mood for sleep not only mentally, but also physically. A warm shower or a hot bath before going to bed not only has a relaxing effect, but also signals to the body that it is preparing for sleep by lowering the body temperature. The warm, moist steam that rises also has a positive effect on the respiratory tract by promoting blood circulation and moistening the sensitive mucous membranes. You should also make sure to drink enough fluids during the day. But be careful: Slowly reduce the amount you drink before going to bed so that you don't wake up at night with a strong urge to urinate and your sleep is further disturbed.

#5 Exercise, fresh air & daylight


A lot of rest and a lot of sleep does not mean strict bed rest. Exercise, sufficient daylight and fresh air help to stimulate circulation and metabolism and supply the respiratory tract with fresh air. It is also important to consume enough daylight to maintain a healthy sleep-wake rhythm and not only make it easier to fall asleep in the evening, but also improve the quality of sleep overall. A walk in the fresh air can also work wonders mentally and make a decisive contribution to sleeping well and quickly beating the cold.

4. Tips for the immune system while you sleep

Colds, corona or other nasty infections can quickly cause sleep problems, even though our body urgently needs rest and recovery at that time. To get a good night's sleep, you should of course pay attention to good sleep hygiene and, ideally, also follow our sleep tips for a strong immune system. For example, our diet also plays a key role in healthy sleep and a strong immune system. A balanced diet and certain nutrients, especially vitamins and amino acids, can provide additional support for your body and your sleep, especially during an acute cold or flu. You can find out more about this in the following articles in our sleep magazine.

To the article Vitamins for good sleep

To the article Amino acids & sleep

5. Conclusion

  • Cold symptoms such as a runny nose, cough or fever disrupt sleep, reduce the quality of sleep and prevent the development of a strong immune system.
  • An appropriate room climate (16-18 degrees Celsius, 40%-60% humidity), sufficient relaxation, an adapted sleeping position with the head elevated or a hot shower alleviate sleep-disturbing symptoms and help you achieve a peaceful, restful sleep.
  • Exercise, daylight, fresh air and a diet rich in vitamins make sleep easier and support the body in the fight against pathogens.

 Greetings and see you soon!

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