Best Sleeping Position For Phlegm

Have you ever had trouble sleeping when your nose is blocked with phlegm? And are you looking for the right position to sleep as laying down straight is extremely unpleasant? 

Here are some tips and tricks on the best sleeping position for phlegm. Researchers suggested that sleeping with an elevated head position helps to soothe phlegm and coughing during sleeping. Some studies also showed sleeping on your side will help nasal congestion and better breathing patterns during sleep.

In this article, we will be discussing more information on:

  • Phlegm Types
  • Phlegm Signs and Symptoms
  • Causes of Phlegm

Understanding Phlegm

Coughing is an involuntary reflex action easily identified from its sound. Coughing up and spitting out mucus from the respiratory tract is known as phlegm production. Phlegm itself is the excess secretion of very thick mucus from the cell linings of the nose, throat, and lungs. It functions to filter dirt and dust from inhaled air. Most phlegm production is temporary but some people can experience it for several months.1 

Types Of Phlegm

Phlegms are commonly categorised by their colour and consistency. Thin and clear phlegm shows signs of a healthy body. Thick and coloured mucus could be a sign of a serious problem. It is important to distinguish phlegms to be aware of when to seek medical attention.   

White phlegm

Usually accompanied by congestion indicates an early phase of infections. In asthma patients, white phlegm might suggest inflamed airways.

Light yellow/green phlegm

Indicates the body fighting the infection.

Dark yellow/green

With cold symptoms, fever, and runny nose are signs of worsening infection that might require medical aid. 

Pink/red phlegm

Means that there is the presence of blood from irritations in the nose, throat, or lungs. These are signs of heavy chest infections, pneumonia, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) symptoms.

Brown/black phlegm

Is usually uncommon, but it is a sign of the presence of dried blood, serious air pollution, or heavy use of tobacco. 

While it is important to take note of these medical manifestations, it is also significant to understand that they are not specific diagnoses for certain conditions. 

Common Causes Of Phlegm

Phlegm production is a defence mechanism of the body system against foreign irritants such as bacteria and debris.2 External factors that can trigger phlegm production include:

  • Allergies (e.g dust mites, pollens)
  • Asthma
  • Common cold
  • Chronic cough
  • Chest infections (e.g bronchiolitis)
  • Lung diseases (e.g bronchiectasis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)

External environmental factors3 and lifestyle could also affect phlegm production, for example:

  • Smoking
  • Air pollution 
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Diet 

Signs And Symptoms

The presence of phlegm is not necessarily a concerning condition. However, excess mucus could be unpleasant to live with. Here are some common symptoms concerning excess mucus production:4

  • Constant need to clear your throat
  • Unpleasant feeling of a blocked throat
  • Stuffy nose, runny nose
  • Whooping coughs, night coughs, persistent coughs
  • Facial pain
  • Headache
  • Reduced taste and smell sensation
  • Temporary hearing loss

Deliberate continuation of these symptoms over 8 weeks is considered to be a chronic cough. Chronic coughs could be an indication of more serious problems, such as:5 

  • Asthma
  • Reflux
  • Rhinitis

Best Sleeping Position For People With Phlegm

Cough related to post-nasal drip or asthma can be extremely uncomfortable, especially during sleeping hours. The best sleeping position for phlegm is to sleep with an elevated head, preferably around 4 to 8 inches.6, 7 However, it is best to avoid stacking too many pillows to elevate your head, which could cause serious neck pain. It is also thought that sleeping on your side brings more advantages than laying down straight. Sleeping on your side does help with alleviating phlegm discomfort. Ultimately, whether it’s sleeping with an elevated head or on the side of your body, it is up to your personal preferences. 

Sleeping Positions To Avoid

Sleeping in a supine position (laying flat on the back) does not offer any symptom relief. Due to the mucus blocking the nasal airflow, laying in a supine position will increase the resistance to inspire air during sleeping. Therefore, this forces you to breathe through your mouth. This puts you at a disadvantage as breathing with your mouth leads to moisture loss which could end up drying your mouth. This could also increase the risk of inhaling unfiltered air as the mouth does not have a filtering agent such as the nasal hairs. The inhalation of foreign particles into the body via mouth breathing could trigger allergic responses, asthma, and sleep apnoea among other illnesses.8

Alternative Tips For Sleeping With Phlegm

Clean pillows, bed sheets, and blankets 

Phlegm can be triggered by dust mites. Keeping your pillows, bed sheets, and blankets clean is the most effective way to prevent possible allergic reactions caused by dust mites, pet furs, hairs, and debris. 

Cough suppressants and medications

Medications can help relieve symptoms including night coughs, a runny/stuffy nose, and congestion. However, it would be important to take it in moderation as these medications have unwanted side effects. Some studies suggested that cough medications are not more efficient than placebos. Cough lozenges contain numbing agents such as benzocaine might be a better choice as they provide relief long enough until you fall asleep.9    


Investment in a good humidifier is extremely helpful for people suffering from dry cough and/or congestion. Some studies suggest that moist air and higher humidity levels may ease cold symptoms.10 Recommended levels of air humidity are around 30% to 50%.11

Drink warm water

Drinking hot liquids is said to reduce nasal congestion[12]. There is no clear association between drinking warm water before bed and respiratory congestion. However, people have been reporting that this method helps them to alleviate pain and helps them to breathe clearer. 

When To Seek Medical Attention

Coughs will usually clear up within 3 weeks to a month. Therefore, if there is no urgency, there is no need to seek medical attention. However, if you are experiencing any one of these, it is encouraged to immediately find a doctor:13

  • Persistent coughs beyond 3 weeks
  • Rapid progression of chronic coughs
  • Angina (chest pain)
  • COPD symptoms
  • Presence of painful swollen bumps on your neck
  • Losing weight in a short period 
  • Hard of breathing 
  • If you have a weakened immune system (e.g from chemotherapy etc.)


Phlegm and persistent coughs do cause mild discomfort and uneasiness in the short term, but in most cases, coughing and phlegm production are not much of a concerning issue. It happens in day-to-day life. Home remedies, resting, and over-the-counter medications should be sufficient to alleviate pain and relieve phlegm production. 

Individuals with other existing diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, terrible allergies, or maybe previous history of lung disease may consult their doctors for specific treatments and medications. 


  1. Farzan S. Cough and sputum production. In: Walker HK, Hall WD, Hurst JW, editors. Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations [Internet]. 3rd ed. Boston: Butterworths; 1990 [cited 2022 Oct 14]. Available from: 
  2. Rubin BK. The role of mucus in cough research. Lung [Internet]. 2010 Jan 1 [cited 2022 Oct 14];188(1):69–72. Available from: 
  3. Jo EJ, Song WJ. Environmental triggers for chronic cough. Asia Pac Allergy [Internet]. 2019 Apr 20 [cited 2022 Oct 14];9(2):e16. Available from: 
  4. Catarrh [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2022 Oct 14]. Available from: 
  5. Morice AH. The diagnosis and management of chronic cough. European Respiratory Journal. 2004;24(3):481–92.
  6. Katz, Philip O MD1; Gerson, Lauren B MD, MSc2; Vela, Marcelo F MD, MSCR3. Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. American Journal of Gastroenterology: March 2013 [cited 2022 Oct 14]. Available from: doi: 10.1038/ajg.2012.444  
  7. Stanciu C, Bennett JR. Effects of posture on gastro-oesophageal reflux. Digestion. 1977 Feb;15(2):104–9.
  8. Stroud RH, Wright ST, Calhoun KH. Nocturnal nasal congestion and nasal resistance. Laryngoscope [Internet]. 1999 Sep [cited 2022 Oct 14];109(9):1450–3. Available from: 
  9. Smith SM, Schroeder K, Fahey T. Over-the-counter (Otc) medications for acute cough in children and adults in community settings. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Nov 24;(11):CD001831. 
  10. Pieterse A, Hanekom SD. Criteria for enhancing mucus transport: a systematic scoping review. Multidiscip Respir Med. 2018;13:22.
  11. Saketkhoo K, Januszkiewicz A, Sackner MA. Effects of drinking hot water, cold water, and chicken soup on nasal mucus velocity and nasal airflow resistance. Chest. 1978 Oct; 74(4):408-10. 
  12. Sanu A, Eccles R. The effects of a hot drink on nasal airflow and symptoms of common cold and flu. Rhinology. 2008 Dec;46(4):271–5.
  13. Cough [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2022 Oct 14]. Available from:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Erida Dubah Georffery

BSc Biomedical Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

Erida is an aspiring biomedical professional with a strong passion for content writing and publications for the medical and health industry. She is determined to provide a platform delivering accurate medical and health information in lay languages for the general public. She is currently in the process of completing her undergraduate with hopes to pursue medical writing in the future.

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