Why Sleeping While Sick Is So Important

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You’re sniffly, feverish, or just generally feeling crummy, and all you want to do is sleep (but don’t blame sleeping with wet hair!). You might not be as productive as you usually are, but that prominent desire for sleep is actually a good thing. “Sleeping when you’re sick is your body’s way of telling you to slow down so your body can heal properly,” says Kelly Murray, certified sleep coach. Here’s how sleep supports the immune system, and what you can do to sleep well — no matter how congested you get.

person trying to sleep while sick

Why You Need More Sleep When You’re Sick

There are two reasons we need more sleep when we’re feeling sick. “Drowsiness can be a side effect of your body’s autoimmune response to infection,” says Stephen Light, certified sleep science coach and CEO/co-owner of Nolah Technologies. “But sleep is also essential to recovery.”

When we sleep, our bodies work hard to recover and repair themselves. That’s exactly what we need when we’re sick. The body uses a lot of energy to fight off infection — when we sleep while we’re sick, it can focus more energy on getting better instead of diverting resources to move your body and get you through your typical daily tasks. 

Research shows that our need for sleep increases with most infections and illnesses because it supports the immune system. “Sleep increases production of the cytokines (proteins) and antibodies that fight infection and inflammation,” explains Light. “So, you may need more than the usual 7 to 9 hours of sleep recommended to healthy adults.”

A lack of sleep has been shown to decrease immunity and make you more susceptible to additional illnesses, so the body’s need for more sleep when we’re sick is important for a robust immune system.

Can You Sleep Too Much When You’re Sick? 

“If you are sleeping a lot when you are sick, it’s because your body needs it,” says Murray. “The main thing is that you are able to stay hydrated and eat a meal to fuel your body.” Remember, your body is using this time to bolster your immune system and fight off the invaders.

However, you should talk to your doctor if you’re not getting better despite plenty of sleep. And if you find that your symptoms improve but you’re still feeling excessively tired or lethargic, see your doctor about that as well.

Tips For Sleeping Better When Sick 

Feeling sick can make you tired, but sometimes your illness makes it hard to get the sleep you’re craving. That’s especially true with symptoms like a stuffy nose, sinus congestion, or a chronic cough. Try these tips to get the sleep you need: 

  • Stay hydrated. Fluids can help decrease nasal irritation from all that coughing and sneezing. Plus, proper hydration supports the immune system.
    drinking water while sick
  • Go to bed early. If you’re feeling tired when you’re sick, listen to your body. It’s telling you it needs to power down so it can focus on fighting off your illness.
  • Flush out your nasal passages. Irrigating the sinuses with a tool like a neti pot can help relieve congestion, making it easier to fall asleep.
  • Sleep with a humidifier. These devices can help ease night-time cold symptoms, like a stuffy nose. “Moisture in the air can break up the mucus that causes congestion, helping you breathe and sleep easier,” explains Light. 
  • Take a hot shower or bath before bed. Similar to the humidifier, this will generate steam that opens the airways and eases congestion.
  • Sleep with your head propped up. Sleeping with a slight incline can help relieve stuffiness,” says Murray. Try stacking a few pillows to elevate your head.
  • Try nasal strips. These sticky little guys are often used to combat snoring, but Light says they can help you breathe easier and fall asleep if you have a cold. “Dilator strips pull the sides of your nose, which widens the airway and increases airflow,” he says.
  • If you’re taking medication, make sure it’s specifically formulated for nighttime use. Some over-the-counter medications are non-drowsy formulas, which could make it hard to fall asleep. Look for those that are designed for bedtime.
  • Try certain teas to induce sleep or soothe symptoms. A warm cup of chamomile tea is a relaxing bedtime ritual, and you can add a squeeze of lemon and some honey for throat-soothing benefits.
  • When you wake up during the night, respond to whatever is bothering you quickly so you can go back to sleep more easily.
  • Maintain good sleep hygiene. Sleeping in a space that’s dark, quiet, and cool promotes sleep, so avoid crashing on the sofa. And don’t touch the thermostat! “You may be tempted to turn the heat up when you’re sick, but especially if you have a fever, a warmer room can cause sweating and sleep disruptions,” notes Light.

Best Sleep Positions For Sleeping While Sick  

woman sleeping on her side

Keeping your airways as clear as possible is important, so consider your symptoms. “Sleeping on your side can help drain mucus and prevent airway obstruction,” says Light. However, you may find that you need to keep flipping from one side to the other.

If you sleep on your back, try a little elevation by propping your head up with a thicker pillow. “Sleeping with your head raised can open your airways, minimize mucus accumulation, and avoid coughing from post-nasal drip,” explains Light. Murray agrees, but advises that the incline should still be comfortable — you don’t want to be tilted up so high that you have neck pain or give yourself a headache.

When To Consult A Doctor   

If your symptoms aren’t getting better even with plenty of rest, or you have a fever over 104 F, it’s time to see a doctor. You should also consult your doctor if you find that your illness is improving, but you’re still feeling really run down and tired.

If you have a high fever over 104 F, you should contact your doctor.

The Last Word From Sleepopolis 

Getting more sleep when you’re sick is actually a good thing — it helps in your recovery by boosting your immune system. And don’t worry about overdoing it. “You shouldn’t worry too much about oversleeping when you’re sick, but you should talk to your doctor if you aren’t getting better even with plenty of rest,” says Light. Long story short: If you’re sick, snooze away!

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Jessica Timmons

Jessica Timmons

Jessica Timmons has been working as a freelance writer since 2007, covering everything from pregnancy and parenting to cannabis, fitness, home decor, and much more. Her work has appeared in Healthline, mindbodygreen, Everyday Health, Pregnancy & Newborn, and other outlets. She loves weight lifting, a good cup of tea, and family time. You can connect with her on her website, Instagram, and LinkedIn.