How to Stop a Nighttime Cough so Your Child Can Sleep

By Maria Magher
Young boy sleeping in bed with a teddy bear.
Young boy sleeping in bed with a teddy bear.

If your child has a cough, it will likely get worse at night. Coughing caused by a cold or the flu can worsen as mucus from the nose and sinuses pools in the throat and causes irritation. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that coughing caused by asthma or other respiratory distress can get worse at night because the airways become more sensitive at night. Whatever the reason, persistent coughing at night will make it difficult for your child to get restorative sleep, which can prolong the illness or make the body vulnerable to other illnesses.

Types of Cough

It is important to identify the type of cough your child has to choose the right treatment. A wet cough is the kind you most commonly associate with illness. It includes phlegm or mucus, and it is a sign of bacterial infection. A dry cough is a reaction to irritation in the airway, such as a sore throat or postnasal drip from allergies or a cold. Many other kinds of coughs fall into one of these categories. For example, a swelling in the upper airway can cause a "barky" cough, sometimes from croup. A swelling in the lower airway, often from asthma or bronchiolitis, can cause a wheezing cough. Viral illnesses can cause persistent coughs.

Over-the-Counter Medications

You can treat some types of coughs with over-the-counter medication. Chest rub can provide relief for children experiencing congestion with their cough, but you should use it only on children older than 2. Decongestants and expectorants can loosen mucus that can aggravate a cough, and lozenges can soothe a sore throat. Antihistamines can treat allergies that cause a cough. The majority of over-the-counter medications are for children over 3. Talk with your doctor before giving any medications, even if your child is 3 or older. It is important that you are giving the right medicine; otherwise, it could be ineffective or cause negative side effects.

Home Remedies

Many home remedies can provide relief for your child's cough and encourage sleep. Running a cool-mist humidifier at night can soothe the throat and help break up mucus. Dr. William Sears says that a warm-air vaporizer may be more effective at loosening mucus, and warm air doesn't harbor bacteria. However, a warm-air vaporizer poses a burn hazard, so you must keep it out of reach of children. You must also change the water daily and clean the unit weekly to prevent germs from forming. Sitting your child in a bathroom filled with steam before bed can also loosen mucus and make sleep easier. Give your child plenty of water to hydrate, or offer non-caffeinated tea with honey to soothe the throat and break up mucus. Prop your child up in bed to sleep on an incline so that mucus will drain and reduce irritation to the throat.

Seeing a Doctor

Since a cough can be a sign of respiratory issues, it is important that you pay close attention to your child's symptoms. If you notice that your child is breathing quickly or is having trouble breathing, you should call your doctor. If your child's lips, face or tongue turn blue, call your doctor. Other reasons to call the doctor include your child coughing up blood, wheezing when breathing out, making a noisy sound when breathing in, having a fever higher than 102 degrees or coughing for more than two weeks. Call your doctor if your child has a barky or whooping cough or if a baby three months or younger has a fever or has been coughing for more than a few hours.

About the Author

Maria Magher has been working as a professional writer since 2001. She has worked as an ESL teacher, a freshman composition teacher and an education reporter, writing for regional newspapers and online publications. She has written about parenting for Pampers and other websites. She has a Master's degree in English and creative writing.