Whooping cough typically gets worse at night (Picture: Getty Images)
The 100-day cough that’s going around right now is no joke.
Cases of whooping cough or pertussis – given the 100-day nickname due to its persistent symptoms – have been on the rise in the UK recently, with infections more than tripling in the last six months of 2023 compared to the year prior.
Although it’s more dangerous for babies and young children, whooping cough is rarely pleasant.
The highly contagious bacterial infection of the lungs and breathing tubes may initially seem like a cold, presenting with symptoms like a runny nose and a sore throat. It can then develop into bouts of coughing lasting several minutes at a time, leaving you red in the face and sometimes even causing you to vomit.
These symptoms would be uncomfortable at the best of times, but whooping cough is especially frustrating because it tends to get worse at night, just as you’re trying to sleep.
Rest (along with fluids and painkillers) is the main recommendation given by the NHS for this, so it’s extra important you do so to recover. But since cough medicines and other remedies aren’t effective at easing whooping cough, sleep can become a struggle.
So if you’re reading this article in bed looking for a solution (in between coughing fits, that is), or searching for solutions the morning after a sleepless night before, hopefully these tips can help you drift off.
Tiredness won’t make you feel any better (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Not only will a hot shower or bath and a cuppa make you feel a little more human amid your illness, warming up your body before bedtime promotes better sleep.
On behalf of Get Laid Beds, sleep expert and qualified GP Dr Daisy Mae said: ‘A nice warm bath an hour or so before bed will raise your temperature nicely while relaxing the muscles, and cooling down after a bath stimulates the production of the sleep hormone, melatonin. But take care not to have the bath too hot as this will only make you sweat.
‘Combine this with a warm drink as you get ready for bed such as milk or a herbal, non-caffeinated tea and your body temperature should be just right as you plan to nod off.’
Whooping cough may present like a cold at first (Picture: Getty Images)
Reconsider your position
According to James Leinhardt, an expert in sleep posture who works with NHS trusts and social care throughout the UK, the position you sleep in can make all the difference.
He explains that your breathing may seem worse when you get into bed ‘because your respiratory system is lay flat, being pushed down by gravity and simply not being able to work how it does when you’re stood or sat up.’
James recommends propping up your mattress (rather than just your head, which can harm your neck and shoulders) with some pillows, books or magazines underneath so that your body isn’t flat, as well as sleeping on your side.
Use honey to soothe an irritated throat
Despite the fact that typical cough remedies aren’t suitable for whooping cough, you can ease the pain with a storecupboard staple.
General Practitioner Dr Kandi Ejiofor tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Honey has powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial properties and is also thick enough to coat an irritated throat. Just a spoonful of honey a night has the ability to improve cough and sore throat symptoms.
‘Studies have consistently found that treatment combined with honey has been superior in reducing viral symptoms, compared to treatment without honey, for both adults and children.
‘Remember though that babies under 12 months old should not be given honey due to the risk of botulinum toxicity. Honey can also be added to hot water along with other beneficial foods like lemon and ginger to maximise the benefits.’
Pop some honey in your drink to soothe your throat (Picture: Getty Images)
One of the reasons you cough is that it’s the body’s reflexive response to try to get rid of excess mucus. As such, giving things a nudge with a facial steam before bed can help ease your symptoms.
Lesley White, a pharmacist at Boots, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Inhaling steam will help keep your nasal passages moist and also loosen any mucus so it can drain away.’
Simply place your face above a bowl of hot (not boiling) water, draping a towel over your head and breathing in the steam.
Be careful with cold and flu remedies
As mentioned above, the NHS recommends painkillers as part of whooping cough recovery, but it’s important not to choose cold and flu remedies that contain caffeine when you’re trying to get to sleep.
Sleep expert and Oxford University researcher Dr Lindsay Browning, in partnership with And So To Bed, says there’s one thing to look out for – and avoid – on the packet, telling Metro.co.uk: ‘Medications with caffeine are usually labelled non-drowsy.’
Stick to basic paracetemol or ibuprofen instead of anything fancy – extra bonus, they’re normally cheaper.
Steer clear of caffeine (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Regulate your breathing
If you can’t drop off after a mammoth bout of coughing, it may be because you’re stuck in a sort of crisis mode.
Stuart Sandeman, the UK’s leading breath expert and founder of Breathpod, has a technique called The Unwind that’ll help you reset your breathing and your mental state.
He tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Here we want to maximise the rest and digest (para-sympathetic response), slow the mind, and the system so that we can nod off to sleep.
‘So we want to increase para-sympathetic and vagus nerve activity and reduce sympathetic. In this state we feel relaxed, calm and can get to sleep with ease.’
It’s less complicated than it sounds. Just follow these steps:
Inhale through the nose for a count of four
Hold breath for a count of six
Exhale through pursed lips for a count of eight
Repeat four times
If your whooping cough is severe or you’re worried about how long it’s lasting, speak to your GP.
Additionally, if you’re finding it hard to breathe, have chest pains, or your lips, tongue, face or skin suddenly turn blue or grey, call 999 or go to A&E.
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