Most people understand that when they have the flu, one of their best defenses is to get some quality sleep. However, between the coughing and the congestion and other symptoms of flu, it’s awfully hard to get some quality sleep. Here are some easy ways to help you achieve sleep while you are suffering from flu symptoms.
If you’re congested or experience an increase in mucus, it can make it difficult to breathe while in bed. Try some of the breathing strips or a nasal spray to help keep your airways clear. It’s important to breathe through your nose, as mouth breathing can lead to uncomfortably dried out oral passages and coughing.
Elevate the head of your bed or sleep in a recliner, or prop yourself up by pillows behind your back to allow your sinus passages to drain effectively. Avoid just adding one more pillow to behind your head; you might just be pushing your chin further into your chest, resulting in an even more restricted airway. [Curator’s note: I often have patients with sleep apnea in the lab for studies who use two or more pillows; when I ask them to reduce their pillows to only one, they sometimes are surprised to discover they have more space in their airway to breathe.]
A humidifier or vaporizer can help restore humidity if your household climate is extremely dry, and this can provide comfort, but be vigilant about keeping your devices absolutely sterile. Unclean humidifiers and vaporizers often just put more allergens and other substances in the air that will further antagonize your condition rather than alleviate it.
Placing your face over a bowl of hot water and covering your head with a towel can also catch steam that can help relieve your congestion. Even a hot shower without washing your hair can do the trick.
Menthol products are also safe and very useful for helping with congestion. Either a menthol chest rub, lip balm or nasal inhaler can be effective in keeping mucus thin enough to expectorate or blow from the nose.
Drink plenty of water. Water can help flush out the system and rehydrate your passages,and 100 percent fruit juices with some vitamin C content can be helpful. Warm liquids are even better–think of broths and decaffeinated teas. Some people do better to avoid milk products, which may increase unpleasant phlegm, but others like warm milk as it helps them to fall asleep. Warm almond or soy or rice milk might be good options. Avoid caffeine as it also contributes to dehydration and can interfere with sleep.
CHOOSE MEDICINES WISELY
Be wary of over the counter cold medicines. Some of them will interfere with sleep, such as the common decongestant pseudophedrine, which can leave you feeling jittery, and the popular allergy medication, diphenhydramine, which causes jitters in some and sleepiness in others. The alcohol in some liquid cold medicines will also mess with your ability to achieve deep sleep and can lead to dehydration, which can make your airway passages uncomfortably raw while you are running a course of flu.
Stick to simple pain relievers for aches, pains, fever and chills (aspirin, Tylenol) rather than choosing a multi-purpose cold medicine so you don’t unwittingly mix medications that, together, might make it harder for you to achieve sleep.
Don’t take sleeping pills, as they won’t allow you to get the healing sleep you need and may have dangerous interactions with any cold medicines you do decide to take.
PRACTICE GOOD SLEEP HYGIENE
Use several light blankets that you can throw off or pull on depending upon your symptoms. Make sure they are easily washable so you don’t “share” your flu with anyone else.
A dark, slightly cool room is perfect for sleeping while you are sick. Too warm a room can contribute to nasal stuffiness and dehydration (overly dry air and sweating). Darker is better because you will wake up less once you do fall asleep; try an eye mask if you can’t achieve dimness in your sleeping space during the day.
Finally, try not to sleep too far off your normal schedule. Stay awake and do quiet tasks like read or watch TV during most of daylight; you could unintentionally mess with your circadian rhythms if you sleep all day long and wake up to find you aren’t sleepy at all when bedtime rolls around. Of course, let your body be the judge; if you are extremely fatigued, then let your body rest however it needs to rest. But try to avoid long marathon sleeps during the daytime if you can.
Avoid your blue-spectrum light sources (all electronic devices) after the sun goes down. When these specific kinds of light rays reach your eyes, they signal the pineal gland in the brain to stop releasing melatonin, which is critical to sleeping at night. Keep your home dimly lit and avoid stimulating music, video games or television so that your body can naturally fall into its normal sleep rhythm.
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SleepyHeadCENTRAL strongly encourages people with ongoing sleep health problems to approach a medical professional to determine appropriate differential diagnoses and treatment. This post, like all other posts on SHC, is not intended to substitute for medical advice.