Stuffy Nose When Lying Down: Causes and Treatments

A stuffy nose can be a real problem. Everyone has experienced the discomfort of lying down with a stuffy nose and being impossible to breathe through the nose. In fact, this is one of the oldest and most common complaints, especially during the winter season or seasonal allergies. Continue reading about the causes and treatments of nasal congestion when lying down.

Stuffy Nose When Lying Down: Causes and Treatments

To get the right diagnosis, you will need to get a medical checkup by your doctor. He/she will perform an examination of your nose, accompanied by a blood test, sputum culture test, X-rays of the sinus or chest as well as allergic skin tests to see if you are allergic to any allergen. Here are some of the most common causes of stuffiness when lying down:

1.   Gravity

The cause can be merely gravity. During the day, we produce about 1 to 2 quarters of mucus which regularly flows down to the back of the throat and gets swallowed. When lying down, the mucus has a harder time getting down the back of the throat. We also tend to swallow less frequently while sleeping, so the mucus can easily build up in the throat and the back of the nose, eventually leading to a stuffy nose. Also, the blood flow to the nose while lying down gets impaired due to gravity, contributing to nasal congestion.


In order to avoid a stuffy nose due to gravity, try sleeping with an elevated head, maintaining a position where your head is more elevated than your heart. This will help relieve the nasal congestion caused by gravity.

2.   Dry Air

Dry air tends to aggravate nasal soreness, leading to an increased secretion of the mucus which is released to overcome insufficient dampness. As explained, excess mucus can cause nasal congestion when lying down. Dry air might get worse depending on a certain location or time of the day.


Air humidifiers may help you solve your nasal problems related to dry air. Make sure to change the filters and the water of the air humidifiers constantly.

3.   Cold, Flu and Acute Unwellness

Common cold, flu, acute bronchitis and pneumonia are triggers of a stuffy nose. When lying down, the mucus tends to build up more, compared to when you are constantly on the move. Blowing your nose will just make your problem get worse. Even though it might provide you with a temporary relief, blowing your nose will just irritate the nasal lining which will secret even more mucus.


Treatment of a common cold or flu is only symptomatic. However, in cases of acute bronchitis or pneumonia, a medical checkup might be necessary. Nasal decongestant sprays will help you relieve a stuffy nose in the meantime.

4.   Allergies

Allergies are another common cause of stuffy nose when lying down. Common allergens are pollen, dust, smoke, mites, etc.


Over-the-counter antihistamines may help you relieve the signs and symptoms of an allergy. However, you should not use them for a prolonged period of time. Instead, get a medical checkup and determine the real cause of your allergy. By determining the allergen, you can avoid it as much as possible. In addition, try to change the pillow you use every 180 days.

5.   Deviated Septum

Normally, the septum should be located in the center of the nose. However, due to various reasons, sometimes the septum is not located in the center of the nose. This is then known as a deviated septum. In this case, the nose will not function normally as it should. Mucus tends to build up on the narrower side of the nose, leading to nasal congestion, especially when lying down.


Surgical treatment is required in severe cases of a deviated septum. This treatment tends to correct the septum position. However, in less severe cases, elevating the head when lying down or lying on the other side will help you prevent mucus buildup.

6.   Nasal Polyps

Nasal polyps could be the cause of a stuffy nose when lying down. Nasal polyps are benign growths inside the nose which tend to block the airflow, leading to mucus buildup. They grow in clusters, just like grapes.


Corticosteroids, anti-fungal sprays or antihistamines are recommended for the treatment of nasal polyps. However, in cases when these nasal polyps can’t shrink on their own, a surgical removal of nasal polyps is required.

7.   Vasomotor Rhinitis

Vasomotor rhinitis is an inflammation of the nasal membranes due to an abnormal nerve control of the nasal blood vessels. During an allergic response, these nasal membranes expand, causing a nasal congestion. Stress, perfumes or tobacco smoke can trigger vasomotor rhinitis.


Home remedies can help you treat vasomotor rhinitis. Over-the-counter nasal decongestants, or saline nasal sprays as well as histamines can help. However, in cases when the symptoms of vasomotor rhinitis are severe, prescribed medications are necessary, including corticosteroid nasal sprays, anticholinergic nasal sprays or antihistamine nasal sprays. 

Rarely, a surgical treatment is necessary to treat the symptoms of vasomotor rhinitis. Surgical treatment assists in regulating underlying conditions that may aggravate the signs and symptoms of vasomotor rhinitis, such as a deviated septum or nasal polyps.

8.   Sinusitis

Sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinuses, which can be acute or chronic. Sinus inflammation is characterized by an increased amount of mucus secretion which usually gets collected in the upper nasal passages, blocking the nose. The symptoms of sinusitis tend to get worse at night due to sleeping position and posture.


At-home treatments include painkillers, nasal decongestants, nasal irrigation, steam inhalation, warm compresses or sleeping with a head raised. If none of the above mentioned at home medications worked, antibiotics might be required as sinusitis can result from a bacterial infection. However, if the symptoms of sinusitis continue for more than a week, seek medical help.

9.   Pregnancy

As the baby grows inside the womb, the belly of a pregnant woman grows, eventually putting pressure on the diaphragm, affecting breathing. Since the body’s defense mechanisms also weaken during pregnancy, a pregnant woman is more likely to catch a cold or flu – two great contributors of increased mucus secretion and mucus buildup.


There is no cure to a stuffy nose due to pregnancy except giving birth.

When to Seek Emergency Help

In general, a stuffy nose when lying down will resolve on its own gradually or by using the above mentioned measures depending on the underlying cause. However, in certain cases, you will need to seek emergency medical help. Call a doctor in cases when:

  • Your nose is stuffed for more than 3 weeks.
  • You are having high fever as well as nasal discharge.
  • You notice white or yellow spots on your tonsils.
  • You start to experience cough which lasts more than 10 days, accompanied by grey mucus or yellow-green mucus together with a stuffy nose.
  • You notice a swelling of the face, especially of the forehead, cheeks, nose, or eyes.
  • You notice a weird smell of your nasal discharge or the color of your nasal discharge changes.
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