Why does my nose get blocked at night?
Not only is a blocked nose uncomfortable but, if you suffer from the problem at night, it has the potential to disrupt sleep. Since lack of sleep can affect everything from our concentration to our mood, it is really important to figure out what's causing your congestion and then tackle it.
There are a few things that often cause a blocked nose at night including:
- Dry and dusty air
- A physical obstruction
- Viral infection
- Heartburn/acid reflux.
In this piece I'll explain why these things may cause a blocked nose at night, plus I'll offer some general tips to help ease congestion and improve sleep.
Allergies to the likes of pollen, animal dander, dust and mould spores can cause congestion at night. Allergies to these things can develop in adulthood which may explain the sudden onset of symptoms. Along with congestion, other allergy symptoms include itchy eyes, a runny nose and a skin rash.
There are a few reasons why allergies may get worse at night. Allowing pets to roam the bedroom, for example, allows dander to collect on clothing, bedding and carpets.
Anyone sensitive to dust mites may also experience congestion at night as dust mites thrive in warm, clean areas such as a mattress or pillow.
As temperatures cool in the evening, pollen particles drop down to the ground. At this level, they are easily breathed in through the nose and mouth so this may cause symptoms to develop in anyone with a seasonal pollen allergy. Pollen also collects on our clothing and hair so, by the time night comes around, levels are at their peak.
The sinuses are air-filled cavities in the face. We do not fully understand why they exist, but one possible reason is that they make our voices resonant and loud. Sinusitis occurs when these cavities become inflamed – this may arise as a temporary symptom of a cold or flu, but can become more prolonged or chronic.
Inflammation in the sinuses leads to an increase in the amount of mucus secreted and, as this collects in the upper nasal passages, a blocked nose can develop. Symptoms can be worse at night, and can be affected by posture or your sleeping position.
A normal bout of sinusitis only lasts a week or so and should clear on its own without any assistance from antibiotics or a GP.
3. Dry, dusty air
Air containing little or no moisture can be a cause of a blocked nose, especially at night. As your nasal passages become increasingly dry, the nasal tissues over-produce mucus in an effort to keep the area moist and this leads to a blocked nose.
Dry or dusty air is not a big problem for those of us who live in the UK but it could be an issue if you spend a lot of time in an air-conditioned environment or if you live in another country, particularly in those with desert or arid lands.
4. A physical obstruction
Nasal polyps are small growths of tissue in the nasal passages. They can arise as a result of chronic inflammation, such as with allergic rhinitis or sinusitis.
A deviated septum may also cause congestion at night. This basically means that the bones in the nose are not in the right place. It may arise as a congenital malformation or injury (typically a rugby injury) and leads to a blockage of the nasal passages.
In general, the long-term 'cure' for these two types of physical obstruction is surgery.
5. Hormonal changes
During pregnancy, levels of oestrogen and progesterone rise which can increase blood flow to different parts of the body. In the nasal passages, the delicate tissues are more prone to swelling and so this increase in blood flow can restrict air flow and cause a blocked nose.
As posture can worsen the situation, many symptoms can get worse at night. Also, if you suffer from asthma, a blocked nose during pregnancy will be something extra to cope with.
As with any health condition that occurs during pregnancy, use of any over-the-counter remedies is not recommended without first consulting a midwife or GP.
In addition, the hormonal changes that occur during the menopause and menstruation may also make it more likely for a blocked nose to occur.
6. Viral infection
Viral infections are the most common cause of a blocked nose at night, especially amongst children.
Children are much more likely to pick up bugs as their immune systems are still developing and, consequently, their resistance to infection is low. In addition, a child's nasal passageways are narrow and are easily obstructed, so any swelling of the nasal tissues makes a blocked nose more likely.
During a viral infection such as a cold or flu, mucus production increases in order to trap and flush out pathogens (this includes viruses and bacteria). At the same time as this, inflammation can develop and, together, these things make it hard for the nose to stay well-drained. This results in that blocked nose feeling. This problem can persist even after the initial vital infection has passed thus making us more vulnerable to secondary infections such as middle ear infections. These can also give rise to further congestion in the ears, nose and throat.
A slight increase in mucus production might not be noticeable whilst you're standing up as the nose is able to drain itself, however, it will certainly become noticeable at night when the normal draining function is removed. You may also notice your blocked nose gets worse in the evening if you are spending time lying down on the sofa.
When we lie down, the body is no longer able to drain mucus out of the nose through your throat - gravity simply isn't working in the right direction anymore. As a result, a blocked nose could suddenly get worse at night when you lie down in bed.
Blood pressure changes, particularly in the head, also occur when we lie down. The more pressure that is put on the delicate blood vessels throughout the nasal passages, the more blocked up we end up feeling.
8. Heartburn/Acid reflux
In addition, other symptoms that come about as a result of the changes in gravity can aggravate a blocked nose. Acid reflux and heartburn, for example, can become worse at night if we have poor digestive functions. This, in turn, can damage the lining of the throat and surrounding areas (the ears, nose and throat are closely connected) and may make you more vulnerable to infections. Sleep apnoea can also contribute to increasingly blocked up nasal and respiratory passages.
Best sleep position for a blocked nose
Keeping your head propped up whilst you're asleep will encourage mucus to flow from the nose and will help take some of the extra pressure away from your head. Simply add an extra pillow or two to do this. If you suffer from symptoms of acid reflux and are worried this could also be adding to your problems with congestion, this tip will also help with the issue!
Along with this, try to sleep on your side rather than on your back. Sleeping on your back allows mucus to build up which will not only make it harder to sleep, it could contribute to snoring as well.
How to ease a blocked nose before bed
1. Identify and remove any allergens
If you are able to recognise that an allergen such as animal dander or pollen is causing your blocked nose at night then you can begin to take steps to remove these things from your bedroom.
If pollen triggers your symptoms then shut your bedroom windows at night and take a shower or bath before bed to help remove any pollen which has accumulated on your hair and body during the day.
Should an animal be the trigger, pets should be kept away from bedrooms.
Dust mites are a common allergen but are often forgotten as a cause of a blocked nose at night. If this is an issue, it is important that bed covers and sheets are washed regularly. You can also use a dust mite protector on your mattress.
Our Luffa Nasal Spray rinses and cleans the nasal passages of allergens, whilst also helping to desensitise the delicate tissues that exist there. This can help the area to feel clearer and less irritated. This is another good way to ease congestion that is the result of allergies.
2. Rinse with a salt water solution
Rinsing the nose with a salt water solution helps liquefy mucus and, in doing so, it may help to ease a blocked nose. To do this, put ½ teaspoon of salt into the equivalent of two mugs of water. A small syringe can help to flush this solution through the nose. These can be purchased from a pharmacy.
3. Use a nasal spray
Our Sinuforce Nasal Spray provides relief from nasal congestion and catarrh.
This product contains all natural ingredients such as chamomile, peppermint and eucalyptus oil which, together, have a soothing effect on the nose. The product reduces swelling in the mucous membranes but leaves their natural protective function intact.
4. Consider your drinks
Alcohol relaxes (dilates) the blood vessels and, therefore, causes the tissues in the upper nasal passages to swell. This isn't something you want if you have a blocked nose so try to avoid alcohol if in the hours before bed.
Nutritionist Emma Thornton says that:
"Other drinks that could be worth avoiding include dairy products such as milk, which are thought to be mucus-producing, and caffeinated beverages which act as stimulants and so could exacerbate symptoms."
She goes on to add that:
"Whilst alcohol is definitely one to avoid, you might want to consider other drinks which may help your condition. Keeping hydrated is important so ensure you drink some water in the lead up to bedtime. If you suspect a viral infection is at the root of the cause, our comforting Echinacea Hot Drink may also help to support your recovery and is a nice option for the evening."
If you'd like to read more about a blocked nose and food triggers just take a look at our blog 'Can what you eat and drink affect your blocked nose?'.
5. Shower or bathe
Steam from a hot bath or shower will also help to relieve symptoms – this is a particularly good option for children who are struggling to sleep because of a blocked nose.
Breathing in the steam from a hot shower helps to liquefy mucus and, in turn, unblocks the nasal passages.
6. Apply a warm compress
Heat helps to open up the nasal passages and so can be another way to bring temporary relief from a blocked nose. Contrary to popular belief, continually blowing your nose may only worsen a blocked nose as it can encourage an increase in the pressure throughout the nasal passages.
7. Try Po-Ho oil
Place a few drops of Po-Ho oil on a tissue and breathe in gently. The vapours released from essential oils including peppermint, eucalyptus and juniper will be inhaled and this will help to relieve congestion.
For many children with a blocked nose, sleep will be disrupted and so keeping the bedroom humid will help to ease their discomfort. One easy way of doing this is to place several bowls of steaming hot water in a safe place around the child at bedtime. Again, it can help to place a few drops of Po-Ho oil into the water.
8. Use tea tree oil
Tea tree essential oil has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties and so it may calm any swelling in the nose and, in turn, reduce congestion.
Tea tree oil can be added to a diffuser a few hours before you go to bed – just remember to turn the diffuser off before you go to bed as, otherwise, the smell will be quite overpowering come morning!
9. Rinse with a neti pot
A neti pot rinses the nose of mucus and any debris so can be helpful for anyone experiencing congestion. Neti pots can be purchased from your local pharmacy and will come with instructions on how to use them safely.
10. Have a herbal tea
Peppermint tea is a good option here as it is known to work as a decongestant. On top of this, it can be a good way to ease headaches, plus it even benefits digestive health.
How do you get rid of a blocked nose while sleeping?
1. Use a humidifier
A humidifier may make a blocked nose more manageable as it adds moisture to the air. This soothes the nasal tissues and thins mucus, making it flow smoothly from the nose.
Put one of these in your bedroom to see if you feel a difference at night.
2. Apply nasal strips
Nasal strips allow the passageways to open slightly, thus assisting with breathing and congestion. This is a good option for anyone suffering from congestion on a longer-term basis, perhaps as the result of an allergy.
What gets rid of a stuffy nose fast?
1. Try a decongestant
Taken orally, over-the-counter decongestants can be helpful in easing a blocked nose. It is important to remember, though, that many of these products contain caffeine or other stimulants which may keep you awake.
2. Stay hydrated
As with so many other ailments, drinking plenty of fluid is also beneficial. This helps to keep mucus thin and reduce the swelling in your sinuses.
3. Use saline drops
These keep the nasal passageways moist and will also help to remove any mucus which may be stored.
When to see your doctor
A blocked nose is not usually a cause for serious concern and instead, it can be put down to things like flu and the common cold. These can be treated at home using some of the methods outlined above.
There are a few instances, however, when it is necessary to seek medical advice on a blocked nose:
- If the blocked nose is continually disrupting sleep
- If it restricts breathing
- If the problem persists longer than two weeks
- If additional symptoms occur including a high fever, sinus pain and bloody, yellow or pus-like discharge.
Originally published on 25th October 2018 (updated on 16 July 2019).