Common Causes of Coughing at Night

Nick Rosen, MD
Medically reviewed by Nick Rosen, MDMay 22nd, 2021
cough night

Laying down at night and going to sleep should be a relaxing—and relatively uneventful—experience. However, this hasn’t been the case lately because you have a cough that starts as soon as you lay down or wakes you up in the middle of the night. Not only can this be frustrating and exhausting, but if you share a bed with a partner, you may be keeping them up as well. To solve this problem and return to uninterrupted sleep, you first need to determine what the underlying cause is. Some of the most common causes of coughing at night include:

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux (GER), is the backward flow of stomach acid into the tube that connects your throat to your stomach (esophagus). It typically occurs after eating a big meal or drinking coffee or alcohol, with the most common symptom being heartburn.

Laying down at night can trigger your acid reflux, especially if you’re guilty of snacking or drinking close to bedtime. You lose the gravitational advantage of standing and can have more acid come back up your esophagus, resulting in a burning or irritating sensation in your throat that can cause you to cough.

Post-Nasal Drip

Mucus is continually being produced by glands in your nose and throat to clean the nasal lining, filter out foreign matter, and help fight infection. Because of this, you frequently swallow mucus without even realizing it. However, once your body starts producing extra mucus, you may feel it dripping or accumulating in the back of your throat, which is known as post-nasal drip.

When you sleep at night, post-nasal drip can become an issue for two reasons: you’re laying down and you’re swallowing less saliva than when you’re awake. The feeling of mucus building up can trigger your cough reflex.

Environmental Allergens

Your nighttime coughing could be a result of your environment. These allergies are an immune response to something in your surroundings, and unlike food and seasonal allergies, they are found year-round and can affect just about anyone. Common environmental allergens include dust mites, pet dander, mold, and mildew.

If your dry cough at night is accompanied by other symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, headaches, itching, or shortness of breath, there’s a good chance that it’s due to environmental allergies. Whether you recently moved into a new place or have lived there for some time, it’s important to keep your space clean—especially the bedroom where you sleep.

How to Calm Your Cough

While you wait to see a doctor to get the right diagnosis, you can try some temporary fixes for your cough. One easy solution is to prop your pillow up so you can help combat any acid reflux or post-nasal drippage. You could also take cough medicine or menthol cough drops (before you go to bed, not while laying down), but they only suppress your cough—they won’t treat the underlying issue.

Count on DispatchHealth for Quick Treatment at Home


[availability_widget] If you’re having a hard time getting to the doctor and your coughing is getting unbearable, you do have the option to receive in-home treatment from DispatchHealth. We provide advanced healthcare to people in the comfort of their own homes and typically arrive within a few hours of being contacted. While you should never completely forgo the doctor’s office, DispatchHealth is proud to supplement this healthcare with in-home services for non-life-threatening issues. We know how frustrating it can be to deal with a cough that won’t quit—not to worry, because our knowledgeable specialists can help you get to the bottom of it so that you can get back to sleeping peacefully.

Get the cough treatment you need from the reliable and attentive team at DispatchHealth. We accept many types of insurance and charge roughly the same amount as an urgent care clinic. You can reach us over the phone, through our app, or on our website.


DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.

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The DispatchHealth blog provides tips, tricks and advice for improving lives through convenient, comfortable healthcare.

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