Your head hits the pillow after a long and tiring day. All you want to do is drift off and get some much-needed sleep — but your nose has other ideas.
When you’ve got a stuffy nose, breathing feels hard to do, and falling asleep can feel almost impossible. Even if you have no other symptoms, once you do fall asleep, a stuffy nose can wake you up during the night, cutting into your sleep time even further.
This not only leaves you feeling tired the next day, it makes it harder for your body to fight off a stuffy nose from allergies or an illness.
Luckily, there are ways you can get a good night’s sleep — or as good as possible — when your nose isn’t playing ball.
Below, we’ll dive into how you can sleep with a stuffy nose and how the RISE app can help.
Blocked nose? There are a few common causes of nasal congestion, including:
Stuffy noses can affect anyone, at any time of day, but they can often be worse at night.
When you lay down, nasal congestion gets worse. Blood flows to your nasal passages, causing swelling and obstruction. And gravity can’t work to drain away congestion. This congestion can flow up into your upper airways, making it harder to breathe through your nose.
Another culprit of nighttime stuffiness is acid reflux. Stomach acid can travel up into your throat and nasal cavities when you’re laying down and cause irritation and congestion.
Nasal congestion also runs on a circadian rhythm, a roughly 24-hour biological clock. It is at its worst at night and during the early morning, so you may feel more of a blocked nose during these times.
You might also have more of a runny nose at night if you’re allergic to something in your bedroom — like dust mites, mold, or pet dander. Some species of plants also release pollen at night, which can trigger an allergic reaction and the stuffy nose that often comes with it.
One final reason your stuffy nose may feel worse at night? There’s nothing else distracting you. You may not notice a blocked nose during the day, but it’s hard to ignore when you’re laying there doing nothing but counting sheep.
A stuffy nose can be uncomfortable, but is it really a problem when it comes to sleep? The short answer is yes.
Sleep is vital to just about everything important in life: energy, productivity, mood, and your physical and mental health. And when you have a stuffy nose, it can be much harder to fall and stay asleep. But that’s not just because it’s uncomfortable.
Breathing problems can lower your arousal threshold. This is how easily you can be woken up from sleep. When you have a stuffy nose, you’re more likely to be woken up during the night. This could be by light, noise, or other poor sleep hygiene, such as that late-afternoon coffee you had.
Heads-up: Sleep hygiene is the set of healthy sleep behaviors you can do each day to get the best sleep possible each night. The RISE app can guide you through 20+ daily sleep hygiene habits.
Beyond a lowered arousal threshold, you’re probably also mouth breathing when you’ve got a stuffy nose. And mouth breathing can lead to a whole host of health issues including:
It’s also a vicious circle. When you’ve got nasal congestion, bacteria can grow and thrive in your nose. This leads to infections, which leads to more congestion, more stuffiness, and more sleep and health problems.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications.
Here’s how to get some relief and, hopefully, some sleep when a blocked nose strikes.
Your sleep position is important for comfort, but it can also make a difference to how stuffy your nose feels.
As laying down can make congestion worse, try propping your head up with an extra pillow. This can be the best position to sleep in when you’ve got a stuffy nose as gravity can then help drain away congestion.
If congestion is a frequent problem — perhaps throughout allergy season — consider investing in a wedge-shaped foam pillow or adjustable base bed, both of which make elevating your head and upper body easier.
One win-win? Sleeping with your head elevated can help to reduce snoring and sleep apnea, both of which may be worse when you’ve got a stuffy nose.
While position can help, don’t sacrifice sleep to stay elevated. If you can’t fall asleep this way, the sleep you lose out on will be more harmful than sleeping in the “wrong” position.
You can learn more about sleeping with or without a pillow and proper pillow positioning for sleep here.
Not a fan of sleeping on your back? Sleeping on your side may also help.
Side sleeping encourages nasal breathing, which can help to filter out allergens, if these are the reason for your stuffiness.
Sleeping on your side can also help keep your airways as open as possible, which can reduce snoring and sleep apnea. And it may help stop congestion gathering at the back of your throat causing postnasal drip.
If acid reflux or GERD are causing congestion, research from 2022 found sleeping on your left side in particular can help reduce the symptoms.
We’ve covered the best side to sleep on other health concerns here.
Good sleep hygiene will help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often during the night. It can also make sure nothing else gets in the way of sleep — you’ve already got a stuffy nose to deal with, after all.
Here’s what to do:
The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day and tell you the ideal time to do each one to make them more effective.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications.
A hot shower before bed can help you drift off more easily, but breathing in the steam can also help decongest your nose. It loosens mucus, making it easier to drain away and it can help to relieve sinus congestion.
If you suffer from allergies, showering before bed will prevent any pollen or pet dander on your hair, skin, and clothes from coming to bed with you.
Don’t want to get wet? A facial steam is an easy home remedy to try.
Hold your head over a bowl of hot water and breathe in the steam. Place a towel over your head to stop the steam from escaping.
Stress and anxiety can keep you awake at night, meaning you’ll be left awake suffering with your stuffy nose for longer. But there’s another reason to work on lowering your stress.
A 2022 study found allergic rhinitis (cold symptoms from allergies) was linked with anxiety and depression. And another study found: “individuals with persistent emotional stress have more frequent allergy flares.”
You can lower stress and anxiety by:
We’ve covered more on how to sleep with anxiety here.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to go right to their relaxation audio guide homepage and get started.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their Brain Dump Habit notification
Breathing exercises can help promote your body’s natural relaxation state — ideal for when a stuffy nose is stressing you out before bed. Breathing exercises can also help decongest your nose.
Here’s a decongesting exercise to try:
We’ve covered more on breathing exercises before bed here.
Yes, we know this is hard — and sometimes impossible — when you’ve got a stuffy nose. But, whenever you can, try to breathe through your nose instead of your mouth.
Your nose acts as a natural filtration system, filtering out allergens that can cause further stuffiness, and a humidifier, adding moisture to the air, which can reduce the chances of stuffiness.
Nasal breathing also comes with the added benefits of:
If your blocked nose feels better during the day, try to take some deep nasal breaths. When your stuffiness clears up, aim to get back to nasal breathing as soon as possible. It’s easy to slip into the habit of mouth breathing, even when your nose is working perfectly fine.
We’ve covered more ways to stop mouth breathing and the benefits and risks of mouth taping here.
Sleep debt is the running total of how much sleep you owe your body. It’s compared against your sleep need, the genetically determined amount of sleep you need each night.
It’s important to keep your sleep debt low at any time to get maximum energy, health, and wellness. But it’s especially important when you’re suffering from a stuffy nose.
Keeping your sleep debt low will help you overcome an illness and fight off allergies. Getting enough sleep keeps your immune system functioning properly, and it lowers your odds of catching a cold, preventing future stuffiness.
It can also keep allergies at bay. Research from 2022 found those who got six hours or less sleep a night had 1.27 times higher odds of developing allergic sensitization (when your body becomes sensitive to a new allergen) compared to those who got seven to eight hours a night.
RISE can work out how much sleep you need and how much sleep debt you have. We recommend you keep sleep debt below five hours to feel and function your best.
Got more than that? You can pay down sleep debt by:
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep debt.
Dust mites thrive in your bedding, pillows, and mattress. And many of us are allergic to them with sneezing, coughing, sinus pain, and a stuffy nose becoming a regular occurrence when we crawl into bed.
Keep dust mite populations as low as possible by washing your bedding once a week in hot water at 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Clean and vacuum your bedroom, and the rest of your home, regularly.
Staying on top of cleaning stops pet dander and pollen you’ve brought in from outside building up in your bedroom, too.
While you’re cleaning, keep an eye out for mold. This can build up in humid environments like your bathroom.
Mix about a cup of bleach with a gallon of water and wipe any surfaces where mold is growing. Keep your home well-ventilated to reduce future mold growth.
If allergies regularly give you a stuffy nose, consider investing in a hypoallergenic mattress. Foam or latex layers can resist dust mites, as well as other allergens like mildew and mold.
An anti-allergy mattress cover can also provide extra protection against mites.
We’ve covered more on how to pick the right mattress here.
Stuffy nose with no obvious trigger? It could be dry air. Try using a humidifier to add moisture to the air in your bedroom.
Watch out, though. Humid air can trigger mold, and dust mites love humidity, too.
A 2018 meta-analysis of the parameters necessary for an optimal sleep environment states relative humidity should be 40% to 60%. The EPA, meanwhile, recommends between 30% and 50%.
An air filter, such as a HEPA filter, can remove allergens from the air, including pollen, dust mites, and pet dander.
This can help if allergies trigger your stuffy nose, or if allergen-laden air makes it worse.
Yes, we know cuddling your pet is a relaxing way to fall asleep, but it’s not doing your blocked nose any favors. Pet dander can cause congestion, or make it worse if something else is triggering stuffiness.
Keep your pet out of your bedroom, or at the very least, out of your bed.
If you don’t have a pet, take a shower and change your clothes when you get home from spending time with animals.
Seasonal allergies can leave you with a stuffy nose for months. When spring rolls around, pay extra attention to how much exposure you get to pollen.
Wash your bedding regularly, take a shower, and change your clothes when you’ve been outside, and consider using an air filter to remove pollen from the air.
Keeping your windows closed can stop pollen from getting in. But, beware, if your bedroom is too warm it will be harder to drift off. Set your thermostat to 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit for the best night’s sleep.
One more thing to be aware of: getting sunlight in the morning is key to regulating your sleep-wake cycle and helping you feel sleepy at night. But pollen count is highest in the mornings, so a morning walk can trigger your allergies and a stuffy nose that lasts all day long.
If you really can’t get outside for natural sunlight, try getting sunlight through a window or using a light therapy lamp instead.
Eating too close to bedtime can cause a range of issues. It can throw off your body clocks, cause digestive issues that keep you awake (and suffering with your stuffy nose for longer), and it can even be the cause of congestion in the first place.
When you eat and then lay down, stomach juices can flow up into your sinuses, ears, nose, and mouth, causing inflammation and congestion. This is especially true if you’ve had something spicy for dinner or enjoyed an alcoholic beverage.
Aim to be done with dinner at least two to three hours before heading to bed. You can learn more about what time to stop eating before bed here.
RISE can tell you the exact time you should aim to be done with dinner to stop it from impacting your sleep.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their avoid late meals reminder.
Nasal strips stick to the outside of your nose, pulling your nostrils open, and nasal dilators go inside your nostrils, pushing them open.
Both devices help to widen your nasal airways, which can help you breathe more easily through your nose and sleep better.
You don’t want to rely on medication, especially if your stuffy nose is an ongoing problem. But decongestants can help relieve a stuffy nose, so you can get some sleep.
You can try nasal sprays — like saline sprays or steroid sprays — or decongestant tablets.
Heads-up: Overusing nasal decongestants can actually cause more congestion, so only turn to them as a short-term solution.
Medication can help relieve a stuffy nose and target the cause of it, such as cold and flu medication or allergy meds. This, too, should be a short-term solution, though.
Allergy meds can cause drowsiness, even the ones that are labeled “non-drowsy.” During the day, this can impact your work or other responsibilities, and it also makes maintaining good sleep hygiene harder to do. You might skip your morning walk and workout, and then indulge in a late-afternoon coffee, for example.
Allergy meds can also change your sleep. They create manufactured sleep, as opposed to naturalistic sleep. During this manufactured sleep, brain waves during deep sleep aren’t as deep.
Some antihistamines, like diphenhydramine, which is marketed under the brand name Benadryl, block the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is important for rapid-eye-movement sleep (REM sleep). You’ll get less REM — needed for important tasks like emotional regulation and memory consolidation — and more light sleep. And you may feel groggy the next day, putting you at risk of slacking on your sleep hygiene again.
Side effects from medications — such as an upset stomach, dry mouth, or headache — can also make falling asleep harder to do.
We’ve covered more about how allergies can make you tired and what to do about it here.
Hydration can help keep your nasal passages moist, avoiding irritation, and it can help to flush out congestion.
Drink plenty of water throughout the day. According to the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, women should drink about 11.5 cups of water a day and men should drink about 15.5 cups a day. You may need to drink more if you’re very active or live in a hot environment.
Speak to your healthcare provider or an allergist if you think allergies are behind your stuffy nose. They can run tests to see what you’re allergic to exactly.
They can also recommend treatment options to help such as allergy shots or allergy immunotherapy, which retrains your immune system.
If allergies are to blame, you can learn more ways to sleep with allergies here.
If you’re a smoker, try to quit. Smoking aggravates and inflames your airways, making it harder to breathe through your nose.
If someone else in your household smokes, try asking them to quit or at least asking them to stop smoking in the house, so you don’t inhale the smoke yourself.
Smoking also increases your odds of insomnia, so quitting can help improve your sleep all round.
Alcohol can make you feel drowsy, but it actually messes with your sleep in more ways than one. It fragments your sleep, meaning you’ll wake up during the night, it can suppress REM, and it increases your odds of snoring and sleep apnea.
It can also cause congestion as it dilates blood vessels in the nose. And research shows some people can get a stuffy nose after drinking. Alcohol can also trigger acid reflux, which can cause congestion.
Cutting down on how much you drink may help relieve your stuffy nose. And avoiding it in the run-up to bedtime can stop it from impacting your sleep, especially if you’ve already got a blocked nose to deal with.
We’ve covered how long before bed you should drop drinking alcohol here.
For an exact time, check RISE for when you should have your last alcoholic beverage each day.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their avoid late alcohol reminder.
Acid reflux happens when stomach acid travels up into your esophagus. It can cause heartburn, stomach pain, and a bad taste in your mouth. And it can lead to congestion as stomach acid irritates your airways.
Research from 2021 found those with GERD (chronic acid reflux) were more likely to have nasal disturbances such as sinusitis, non-allergic rhinitis, and allergic rhinitis.
You can reduce acid reflux by:
We’ve covered how to sleep with acid reflux here, including more ways to reduce it.
A neti pot rinses out your nasal airways with saline solution. This can help flush out allergens or congestion from a cold.
Hold your head sideways over a sink and slowly pour the saline solution through the upper nostril so it drains out of the lower nostril. Repeat on the other side.
If you suffer from frequent nosebleeds, skip this tip.
If you wake up during the night and need to blow your nose, you don’t want to be getting out of bed, turning on the light, and hunting the house for tissues.
Light suppresses the sleep hormone melatonin, making it harder to drift off back to sleep, and getting out of a warm and comfy bed is never fun.
When allergies or a cold strike, make sure you’ve got tissues to hand next to your bed, so you don’t have to get up in the night.
If you do get up to grab tissues or use the bathroom, keep the lights as low as you can. Using a low power red light night light is ideal.
If you find yourself awake in bed for more than 20 minutes, get up and do a sleep reset. Do a relaxing activity like reading until you begin to feel sleepy, then crawl back into bed.
Doing a sleep reset will stop your brain from making the link between your bed and wakefulness.
While you’re up, try to avoid screens, light, and checking the time — this will only cause anxiety, which will make falling asleep even harder.
We’ve got more tips on how to fall back to sleep here.
Spicy foods can help to thin the mucus in your nose, helping you breathe easier. This is thanks to a chemical called capsaicin. It can also increase mucus, which sounds like a bad thing, but this can sometimes help get your nose running and flush out congestion.
Be sure to avoid anything spicy close to bedtime as this can cause a stuffy nose that impacts your sleep. And spicy foods can also trigger acid reflux, which can cause congestion. More on the best and worst foods for sleep here.
Acupressure involves putting pressure on a specific part of your body. Pushing sinus pressure points may help to relieve congestion.
A 2022 study found four weeks of nightly acupressure helped those with allergic rhinitis. Acupressure was found to reduce their symptoms — including nasal congestion, sneezing, itching, and watery eyes — and improve their sleep quality.
When you’ve got a stuffy nose, and the sleep problems that often come with it, it’s tempting to reach for an extra cup of coffee to get you through the day. But this can easily keep you up at night, causing you to build up sleep debt that could make you more susceptible to illnesses and allergies.
Watch out for medications, like cold and flu meds, that contain caffeine, especially if you’re taking them in the afternoon or evening.
Caffeine can last in your system for longer than you think — up to 12 hours! RISE can tell you when you should have your last coffee each day.
We’ve covered more on when to stop drinking coffee here.
RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their limit caffeine reminder.
If you’ve tried a few ways of reducing your stuffy nose and still can’t figure out what’s causing it, get medical advice. A doctor can run tests to find out if you have a nasal blockage.
You may have a sinus infection that needs antibiotics, or it may be something like nasal polyps or a deviated septum, which may require surgery to fix.
Whether it’s from allergies or the common cold, a stuffy nose can keep you up at night, stopping you from getting the sleep you need. Try propping yourself up on pillows to elevate your head, cleaning your bedding regularly, or taking a hot and steamy shower to reduce stuffiness.
Beyond quick hacks, pay attention to your sleep hygiene. The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene behaviors to give you the best chance of drifting off and sleeping through the night.
And, while it can be hard with a blocked nose, don’t forget to keep your sleep debt as low as possible. RISE can work out how much sleep debt you have and keep track of it as you pay it back.
Getting enough sleep will give your immune system the rest it needs to fight off stuffiness and reduce your odds of catching a new illness or developing new allergies.
Your nose gets stuffy when you lay on your side as blood flow increases to your nasal passages, causing swelling and obstruction, gravity can’t help to drain away congestion, and stomach acid can travel up into your airways and irritate them.
To unstuff your nose when you sleep, try sleeping with your head elevated, taking a hot and steamy shower before bed, using a neti pot, and using medication cautiously and as a short-term fix.
To sleep comfortably when congested, try laying on your back with your head elevated so gravity can help to drain away congestion. Sleeping on your side can also help keep your airways open, so you can breathe more easily.
When you’ve got a blocked nose, try sleeping on your back with your head elevated so gravity can then help to drain away congestion. Sleeping on your side can also help keep your airways open, so you can breathe more easily. If acid reflux is causing your blocked nose, sleeping on your left side is best.
It’s not dangerous to sleep with a blocked nose exactly. Your body will automatically switch to mouth breathing if you have difficulty breathing through your nose to make sure you’re getting enough air. But it can be hard to sleep with a blocked nose, and sleep deprivation can increase your odds of health issues like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Mouth breathing also comes with an increased risk of health issues like high blood pressure and sleep apnea. So, you want to fix your blocked nose if possible.
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RISE makes it easy to improve your sleep and daily energy to reach your potential
RISE makes it easy to improve your sleep and daily energy to reach your potential