Monday, 10 November 2014

Cold and Flu Season: A Survival Guide

As we say hello to thicker coats, darker nights, and a higher setting on the thermostat, we’re also saying hello to cold and flu season. Some people will avoid it, while others will cough and sniffle their way through the colder months — and what an unpleasant experience that can be, especially when you’re trying to get to sleep!


Possibly even more frustrating is a common piece of advice for how to get over a cold: make sure you’re sleeping well. The advice is accurate, but of course, it’s not that easy to follow. So before you head off on a spiral of sneezing and sleep deprivation, here are the best ways to sleep while you’re struggling with a cold or the flu.


Before you go to bed:

  • Drink tea. Decaffeinated black tea will help suppress your cough, while the steam will help clear out your airways. Try it with honey and lemon instead of milk and sugar to soothe your throat.

  • Try a steam cleanse. Get a bowl of hot water and breathe in the steam to help clear your airways and make you feel less congested. You can add some essential oil if you like — lavender is relaxing and calming while eucalyptus and peppermint are commonly used as decongestants. Try covering your head and the bowl with a towel to trap the steam. Be careful with the hot water, and always supervise children.

  • If you’ve been given cough or cold medication by your doctor or by a pharmacist, check whether you can time a dose for just before bed, so that it starts to take effect around the time you’re planning on going to sleep. Drowsiness is a side effect of some cough and cold medicines — if you’re struggling to sleep, you could talk to your doctor or pharmacist about whether this would suit you. Check that your medication doesn’t contain caffeine, as of course this will have the opposite effect to the one you want!


  • When you go to bed:

  • Make your bedtime earlier than usual, especially if you’re prone to going to sleep very late. Lack of sleep will make you feel run-down for much longer, so give yourself the best fighting chance you can and widen the window in which you could be asleep.

  • Experiment with the temperature. The temperature you usually like to sleep at might not be right while you’re ill. You don’t want to wake up shivering, so you could try turning the thermostat up ever so slightly to see if this helps you sleep better.

  • Prop your head up. An extra pillow will help to ease the pressure on your sinuses and make it much easier to breathe. If you find this uncomfortable, you could try putting a soft pillow under your shoulders as well, so that you gently tilt your whole upper body.


  • During the night:

  • Try sleeping on your side. Some people find that they get more congested when lying on their back.

  • Stay hydrated! It sounds obvious but it can be easy to forget to drink regularly when you’re feeling ill. Keep a bottle of water by your bed to soothe a sore throat.

  • Keep lots of tissues close to hand. Again, very obvious, but clear your bedside table of clutter so that you’re left with just your water and tissues within easy reach. Have a bin beside your bed so that you can easily throw away used tissues without turning the light on, as the light will make your brain think it’s morning and it will be harder for you to fall asleep again.