Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

Nighttime coughing keeping you awake?

1/28/2021 by Michelle Duvall, M.D.


Cough is a common health complaint in the winter. One of the most bothersome forms is a cough that worsens at night. Coughing throughout the night disrupts sleep, and this coughing can last for weeks or months if left untreated.

Causes of nighttime cough

Coughing that worsens at night can be due to a number of different causes, including:

  • Postnasal drip
    This is where lying down allows mucus to pool in the back of the throat and trigger a cough.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD
    This is where lying flat allows stomach acid to irritate the throat.
  • Underlying medical conditions
    Asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or certain types of cancer can cause a nighttime cough.

Treatment of nighttime cough

The right treatment depends on what is causing the cough. For example, a nighttime cough due to postnasal drip may be treated with saltwater gargles, nasal saline irrigation and a course of intranasal steroids. Some people also may benefit from addressing allergic reactions to triggers like dust mites. Trying to tackle dust mite allergies may require tactics like special covers for bedding, air filters and other measures.

When gastroesophageal reflux disease causes a nighttime cough, people often benefit from elevating the head of the bed, avoiding certain foods, eating earlier in the evening and using certain medications.

However, it's important to figure out what's causing the cough to find the most effective treatment. Ruling out things like infection, asthma, cancer and other conditions is paramount. This means having a conversation with your health care provider to ensure you are taking the right steps to address your nighttime cough.

Dr. Michelle Duvall is a Family Medicine physician in Mayo Clinic's Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson, and she practices at Mayo Family Clinic Northwest.