Coughing is one of the most common defense mechanisms of our body. So, if you have a persistent cough, your body might be trying to warn you that a pathogen may be obstructing your airway. However, coughs can be annoying especially the ones that occur once you lie down since it can disturb your sleep or rest.

Thus, most of you might ask the question “Why do I cough when I lay down?” There are actually several reasons to explain why you start coughing when you lay down, and we will discuss some of them.

Why Do I Cough When I Lay Down?

Some coughs that happen only when you lay down may also only occur at nighttime. Although this is quite common, if you have a persistent cough that only happens at night for a couple of days and it doesn’t seem to show any signs of easing up, this might be another type of condition. That being said, here are the answers to the question “Why do I cough when I lay down?”

  • Acid Reflux

Acid reflux, which is also known as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), may be one of the main reasons that you cough when you lie down to sleep because the acid from your stomach creeps up into your esophagus, causing obstruction.

Your body’s natural response will be to cough as a way to get any foreign particles out of your body. Coughs related to acid reflux are usually dry, and it is one of the causes of chronic coughing. With this condition, your cough may also get worse when you are eating.

If your cough is related to GERD, other symptoms you might experience are heartburns and hoarseness of voice. If you experience these specific symptoms, you should see a doctor.

Nevertheless, the disease can be treated with OTC medications such as Zantac or Pepcid AC, but make sure that you really have GERD. To diagnose GERD, your doctor will need to do an x-ray or an endoscopic test.

  • Heart Failure

Some coughs you get specifically when lying down are referred to as orthopnea, and the condition is associated with heart failure. Apart from a cough when lying down, other symptoms may include swelling of the ankles or legs and paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea (PND), a condition wherein the sufferer wakes up at night with shortness of breath and abdominal fullness. Whether or not you have congestive heart failure depends on your age and several risk factors.

Though it may be an unlikely cause of your cough, you should seek medical advice and counsel if you have a family history of heart failure, suffer from diabetes or obesity, and have coronary artery disease. If the cough occurred all of a sudden, it may just be a symptom of the common cold or other diseases, and nothing serious that you need to worry about yet.

  • Post-Nasal Drip

Some conditions like bronchitis, asthma or even the common cold or flu, can cause a post-nasal drip. In these instances, you may not realize that you have a bronchial obstruction until you lie down. Post-nasal drips can produce a cough that is wet or dry, depending on how much mucus is dripping down your throat.

The trickling of mucus tickles your nerve endings resulting in a cough. Some people may be unfortunate enough to feel the trickling at the back of their throats especially at night, and some may be fortunate enough never to feel the slow stream of mucus.

If the post nasal drip is a result of allergies, it may be accompanied by sneezing and itchy eyes. Post nasal drips resulting from allergies or the cold will usually go away on their own after some time, enough rest, intake of plenty of fluid, and with the use of OTC drugs such as an antihistamine.

If you take an OTC drug and your cough still persists, then you should visit your doctor as the cough may be related to an infection and require an antibiotic treatment.

  • Other Ailments

Respiratory ailments, such as asthma or bronchitis, can cause you to cough when you lie down. An inflammation of the airways causes both. If your cough is asthma related, you may experience a dry cough that has a wheeze or a rattle sound.

If the cough persists, you may suffer an asthma attack. For bronchitis, you can have either a productive or a dry cough. However, the wheezing sound is not present.

Asthma can be treated with bronchodilators and some maintenance drugs while bronchitis is most of the time self-limited and only requires management of the symptoms. Nevertheless, some cases require the use of bronchodilators and antibiotics.

How to Prevent Coughing When Lying Down?

Certain coughs are unavoidable, but some can be prevented through lifestyle changes. Coughs related to GERD can be prevented if you avoid food that can cause heartburns, especially before going to sleep.

Smoking can also worsen your condition, so you should refrain from smoking cigarettes and avoid people who smoke. Additionally, using an extra pillow to raise your head while you sleep also helps to prevent the effects of post nasal drip.

Today, there are already some items that can help relieve coughing while you lay down, and one of the most popular is a diffuser. This is a device wherein you can put water and drops of essential oil. After plugging it, it produces a vapor that can help improve your breathing, loosen your mucus, and release the irritants in your chest.


There are several reasons for you to cough when you lay down. Some of them are chronic and require that you get treated by a doctor, and others are mild or acute and can be treated with OTC medications.

If your cough continues for two weeks despite treatment, you should consult your doctor who will recommend a series of tests to diagnose or rule out any life-threatening or serious diseases. Despite the annoyance of a cough while lying down, there are still some preventative measures that you can practice.