How Much Sleep Should I Get When I’m Sick?

December 21, 2022

How Much Sleep Should I Get When I’m Sick?

Have you fallen victim to the common cold, flu, or other illnesses that have made daily activities difficult to accomplish? Perhaps you feel tired more than usual throughout the day, or you simply cannot muster the energy to get out of bed to fold the laundry, wash the dishes, or grab a bite to eat. Sleep and the body’s immune system are closely intertwined, one relying on the other to maintain a healthy body. Sleep experts recommend the average adult get at least 7 hours of sleep per night, but flu season can make some sleep less, while others sleep significantly more.

How Much Should I Sleep?

Sleep specialists report the number of sleep hours a person gets, as well as the quality of sleep, is crucial in maintaining homeostasis within the body. On average, adult sleepers should aim to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. While the duration of sleep is important, the quality of sleep is critical in allowing the brain to seamlessly flow through the varying sleep stages.

Why am I More Tired While I am Sick?

Whether you present with a plethora of symptoms, or very few, fighting an infection, or battling a fever, requires a lot of energy from the body, and puts your immune system function into overdrive. As you sleep, the body can repair damage from the day's activities, including inflammation, mental wear, and illness. The body’s immune response to an infection is to attack foreign cells, causing your symptoms, which in turn leaves you feeling fatigued, due to the increased energy emitted during the body’s fight against the invader cells.

How does Sleep and the Immune System Work?

The immune system works around the clock to protect your body from bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other germs. Though it is a constant battle to protect your body from foreign invaders, symptoms of an illness may arise. There are nearly 800 lymph nodes in the body that act as a filter to help the body filter out infectious invaders. Throughout the night, T-lymphocytes are released, targeting various lymph nodes as an immune response to heal the body. In addition, sleep improves the memory of the immune system, allowing it to detect antigens faster.

When an infectious foreign invader is present, the body’s inflammatory response releases proteins (cytokines) into the bloodstream to boost blood cell production, repair damaged tissue, and reduce inflammation. Though cytokines help to fight infections, these proteins can increase daytime sleepiness, cause an elevation in blood pressure and heart rate, and worsen joint and muscle pain - all of which make it more difficult to sleep when you’re sick.

How Much Sleep do I Need When Feeling Sick?

Good sleep promotes healing within the body. A psychoneuroimmunology perspective has shown sleep deprivation is accompanied by a greater risk of infectious disease, cardiovascular disease, depression, and even cancer.

According to the Sleep Foundation, the best way to avoid illness is to ensure you are getting enough sleep, and restful sleep, each night. Studies suggest that those who experience sleep deprivation in the days to weeks leading up to exposure to a bacteria or virus are more likely to become symptomatic when compared to those who get enough sleep each night.

Why do I Cough More at Night While Sick?

Coughing is the body’s natural defense against foreign objects, mucus, and other potentially dangerous hazards to clear the lungs, windpipe, and voicebox. At night, a sick person experiences an increase in coughing (nocturnal cough) due to an increase in secretions or mucus dripping into the throat, rather than being expelled from the nose - commonly referred to as a post nasal drip.

During a cold, the nasal passages may become blocked with mucus, making it more difficult to breathe through the nose. Thousands of people report sleeping on their back; however, this sleep position can worsen post-nasal drip during an illness. A simple change in your body position can help the nasal cavity open to alleviate pressure, and allow fluid to drain.

Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep When Sick

When you are sick, you may feel sleepy more throughout the day, yet as bedtime approaches, your body seems to be fighting to fall asleep. This may be the result of a sore throat, head pain, increased muscle and joint pain, or other symptoms associated with your cold.

While it is always important to contact a doctor when ill, the following sleep tips can help you get more sleep while sick:

Make Bedtime Earlier Than Normal

This may seem obvious, but the earlier you go to sleep, the more hours you have to get quality sleep. For many, bedtime is 9-10 pm, however, when you are sick, it can help to adjust your sleep schedule, and head to your bed closer to 8 pm, allowing more time for your body to rest. Listen to your body, if you are feeling tired earlier than normal - rest. If you don’t need to get up for work, consider not setting your alarm clock to allow you to have more rest when sick.

Take a Hot Shower Before Climbing into Bed

During sicknesses like the cold and flu, the sinuses begin filling with mucus and other secretions. Mucus is responsible for keeping the passages in your nose moist. However, when it cannot drain properly, you will experience pressure in the head and nasal area, feeling like you cannot breathe properly. The warm water will help to break up the blockage within your chest and nasal cavity, and promote blood flow, allowing mucus to drain, so you can get quality sleep. If you are feeling stress from your cold or flu, the hot shower or warm bath can help relax you.

Elevate Your Head While Sleeping

During a recent study of 664 participants, 37% of sleepers were found to spend more time sleeping on their backs throughout the night than any other sleep position. While this bed position allows many to rest comfortably, those that are sick may continually wake in the middle of the night feeling worse. Regardless of your sleep position, elevating your head is recommended to allow the nostril passages to drain, rather than overfill with mucus. In doing so, you will experience a decrease in facial pain and sinus pressure to rest easier.

Use Over-the-Counter Medications

There are many over-the-counter cold and flu medications used to treat an array of symptoms. If you are feeling ill, have a fever, or have a cold, these medications can help to reduce symptoms to help your body heal, and promote restful sleep. If you are unsure of which medication is best for you, speak to your local pharmacist for recommendations.

Avoid Alcohol

Alcohol can help relax the body, allowing you to fall asleep faster, but many do not know that alcohol acts as a sleep disrupter. During the night, the brain goes through multiple sleep stages, however, alcohol disrupts rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, leaving you to wake feeling sluggish, and more tired.

Use Home Remedies

For illnesses like the common cold, many people can treat themselves at home, without needing to see a doctor.

Commonly used home remedies include:

Neti Pot

This nasal irrigation container is used to rinse debris and mucus from the nasal passages. It uses saline water to moisten the nasal cavity, treats sinus congestion, relieves allergy malladies, and helps to keep nasal passages open.


Dry air in your room can make sickness discomforts worse; however, placing a humidifier in your bedroom can help you to sleep better. Dry air affects the eyes, nose, and throat, but using a humidifier can help to regulate moisture and air quality around you.

Herbal Tea

A cup of warm herbal tea can not only promote relaxation, but it can provide relief by soothing your throat, quieting a cough, and opening up your nostrils to help you get enough sleep when you’re sick.

Stock Your Bedside Table

It is important to stay hydrated while sick. By stocking your bedside table with water, electrolyte supplements, and nourishing snacks, you can help fuel your body to fight the infection and promote healthy sleep. Steer clear of external influences, like devices that emit a blue light.

Sleep Better with Eco Terra

Sleep and the immune system go hand-in-hand. Without good sleep, your body cannot heal. At Eco Terra, we believe everyone deserves the right to affordable, comfortable sleep products. Handcrafted in the USA, our hybrid latex mattress and 100% natural latex pillow will have you in a deeper, more comfortable sleep the first night. Try our mattress for 90 nights, risk-free today!

Patrick Gunther

Patrick is an accomplished writer. He has been in the retail mattress space for the past 13 years, and more specifically in the natural mattress niche. He blogs on the subjects of natural mattresses, sleep, health, fitness, and green living.