Why Is My Nose Clogged in the Morning?

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Last updated April 21, 2017, originally published September 24, 2008

By Joseph Strongoli, Contributing Columnist

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of Registered
Nurses, Certified fitness trainers and other members of our Editorial

Waking up early, without hitting the snooze button several
times, requires discipline enough. Waking up every morning
and having to deal with morning congestion makes the task
even more dreadful.  Not traffic congestion, but

If the morning light finds you with a suffocating blockage
of the nose, leaving the mouth parched, the lips cracked,
and you reaching for the nearest plunger to apply to your
face, you are not alone.

A 2010 study at the RMIT School of Health Sciences in
Melbourne, Australia, led by Dr. Timothy Sharp et al., found
that amongst the participants who reported suffering
chronic congestion, 56% indicated that the symptoms were
most severe in the morning, and 91% reported that the
symptoms had a negative impact on their day ahead.

What Is Congestion?

Morning congestion typically consists of nasal congestion.

Chest congestion generally is the result of viral or bacterial
infection, and while nasal congestion can be and often is
caused by similar or the same infectious pathogens, chronic
chest congestion is not associated with increased severity
in the morning, upon waking up.

Nasal congestion is described as fullness, obstruction, or
blockage of the nasal cavity, which restricts or prevents

Being stuffed or clogged up can feel suffocating --- this
leads to snoring while asleep and can make you wake up
frequently, thus reducing the quality of sleep.

When awake, nasal congestion can cause breathing
abnormalities, such as forced, labored breathing through
the mouth.

Do you hack and cough up phlegm in the morning? That's
also a symptom of nasal congestion. Nasal congestion
causes an aggregation of thick phlegm in the back of the
throat/nose due to post-nasal drip, sneezing, and
rhinorrhea (runny nose).

Causes of All That Nasal Clogging

Nasal congestion can be caused by anything that irritates or
inflames the sensitive tissue lining the nasal passages.
Irritants include infections such as colds, influenzas, or
sinusitis, and cigarette smoke or other fumes. Perhaps the
main nasal irritant however, is allergy.  

Nasal congestion caused by allergens is called "allergic
rhinitis". Allergens that induce allergic rhinitis include
pollens from certain types of trees, grasses, and weeds,
and other airborne irritants such as dust, dust mites, and
pet dander. Food allergies are also implicated in allergic


Certain foods and herbs can lower histamine levels
Vitamin C, for example, can lower histamine up to
40%, making it an effective alternative to certain
prescription medications.]

Non-allergic rhinitis is a bit more mysterious. As the name
implies, its causes are not allergenic,  i.e., they do not
involve immunoglobulin E or histamine release. But what
the causes actually are then, is not exactly clear. A 2008
study at the Institute for Asthma and Allergy in Bethesda,
MD, led by Dr. Michael Kaliner et al., suggested that non-
allergic rhinitis might be caused by environmental
conditions, such as cold air, changes in temperature,
humidity, and barometric pressure, and other factors such
as strong smells, strong emotions (stress), hormone levels,
and ingesting alcohol.  Furthermore, certain inflammatory
foods such as dairy and sugar are implicated in nasal

Why Is Nasal Congestion Worse In The Morning?

There are a number of reasons why nasal congestion
seems to be exacerbated or even induced by a night’s
sleep. Sleeping position is a factor, as lying flat in bed
causes mucus to settle in the nasal cavity. The mucus then
thickens during the night, as it congregates and coalesces,
and in the morning you have post-nasal drip and blockage.
Elevating your head on a few pillows can promote regular
drainage and flow.

Dry air is another factor that contributes to morning
congestion. Many people sleep with the fan on in the
summer and in the winter the air is excessively dry
anyways. Combined with mouth breathing, dry air can dry
out your sinuses and cause the tissue to inflame, and the
mucus to thicken and crust over.

As we saw above, allergies are a common cause for rhinitis.
Unfortunately, the bedroom is chock full of allergen
havens: pillows, comforters, sheets, carpets, curtains, and
blinds are all a breeding ground for dust, dander, dead skin
cells, and other particles that go airborne with the slightest
disturbance and are easily inhaled by the unsuspecting
sleeper. It’s no wonder then that sleeping in the midst of
an allergen trap for eight hours can cause symptoms like
coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, and nasal congestion.

The last factor is dehydration. Eight hours of sleep is eight
hours without a glass of water. The more dehydrated you
are, the thicker your mucus becomes, creating further

A Stuffy Nose Is No Laughing Matter

While it is hardly fatal , rhinitis, be it allergic or not, is more
serious than it may seem.  According to Sharp et al. from
above, daily activities are impaired in more than 80% of
patients with moderate or severe rhinitis, and in 40% of
those with mild rhinitis.  Reduction in sleep quality and
quantity, hypoxia due to impaired breathing, the loss of
productivity due to drowsiness, cognitive/motor
impairment, and missed school and work are some of the
complications that result from chronic rhinitis. The Kaliner
et al study from above found that in the US alone, there are
approximately 60 million cases of allergic rhinitis and 30
million cases of nonallergic rhinitis.

Fortunately, there are some proven ways to battle the

Below are our top  natural remedies for morning
congestion. One last thing: unless you have an important
meeting the next day and really need a one time fix, avoid
OTC decongestants such as Afrin & Neosynephrine which
are addicting and can lead to rhinitis medicamentosa,  or
rebound congestion.

Drink More Water

As noted, one of the main reasons your nose becomes
clogged is that you become dehydrated, especially during
the night, when your body goes without water for up to 8
hours.  Drink an extra glass of two of water around dinner.
That will help to keep you hydrated during the night and
decrease the risk of nasal clogging while you sleep.

Add Extra Pillows

Elevate your head to counteract the natural gravity that
makes your sinuses drain toward the top of your head
while you sleep. Adding just an extra bit of height should
do the trick. Don't like pillows? Try adding a towel between
your mattress and your box springs at the end of the bed
closest to your head. That will elevate your head a bit.

Nasal Lavage

Washing our your nasal cavity goes a long way in clearing
out mucus, irritants, and providing moisture to dried out,
irritated and swollen nasal membranes.

One option is the popular Neti Pot; using lukewarm saline
water, the Neti Pot gives your cavities a thorough rinsing.
Having water rush through your nostrils and out the back
of your throat can be uncomfortable though; other options
for nasal irrigation include saline nasal sprays, mist
humidifiers, and my personal favorite, taking a steamy hot

A 2004 study at the University of Oklahoma, led by Dr.
Dewey Scheid demonstrated the efficacy of daily nasal
lavage for treating chronic rhinitis, through the promotion
of mucociliary clearance by decreasing congestion,
moistening the nasal cavity, and removing crusty mucus.


Spirulina is a blue-green alga that has become a popular
choice in homeopathic medicine for a wide range of

A 2008 study by Dr. C. Cingi at the Eskisehir Osmangazi
University in Turkey found that spirulina was effective for
relieving inflammation of nasal mucosa by decreasing
histamine and immunoglobulin levels, two agents that
increase inflammation.

Other rhinitis symptoms that were significantly improved
included: nasal discharge, nasal congestion, sneezing and
itching. (Read more about
spirulina's health benefits, which
include lowering cholesterol.)

Red Hot Chili Peppers-- Capsaicin Is the Key

Capsaicin, a powerful bioactive compound found in chili
peppers, has a whole host of medical benefits. One of these
is treating the symptoms of non-allergic rhinitis.

A 1991 study at the University Cantonal Hospital in Geneva,
Switzerland, by Dr. JS Lacroix et al., tested an intranasal
spray of capsaicin on adult patients with severe chronic
non-allergic rhinitis.

The study found that the spray resulted in a 50% reduction
of nasal inflammation.  Even better, the study reported that
there were no adverse side effects, and moreover the spray
was not dependency-inducing.


That is not a typo. A 2008 study by Dr. Sina Zarrintan
entitled “Ejaculation as a potential treatment of nasal
congestion in mature males”, conducted at the Tabriz
Medical University in Iran suggests that masturbating could
clear up that stuffy nose.  

The author’s argument is as follows: stuffy noses are
caused by inflamed blood vessels in the nasal tissue.
Orgasms, by nature, excite the sympathetic nervous
system, which causes blood vessels to constrict, leading to
de-inflammation and hence decongestion.

Actually, the same mechanism is used in pharmaceutical
decongestants. The author suggests that “the patient can
adjust the number of intercourses or masturbations
depending on the severity of symptoms.” Talk about a
hands-on self-medication plan!

Stinging Nettle

Stinging nettle is an herbaceous perennial flowering plant
native to parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. A 2009
study led by Dr. B. Roschek at the HerbalScience Group in
Naples, Florida found that consuming stinging nettle (as a
tea or used as a spice in foods) alleviated nasal congestion
by inhibiting proinflammatory pathways related to the nasal
membranes, via antagonizing histamine receptors,
inhibiting prostaglandin, a hormone-like lipid that cause
inflammation,  and inhibiting degranulation, an immune
system response that also causes inflammation.


Butterbur plants come from the sunflower family found in
parts of Asia, Europe, and North America.

A 2006 study led by Dr. R. Kaufeler et al at Swiss private
research firm Max Zeller Sohne AG found that butterbur
extracts improved rhinitis symptoms such as rhinorrhea
(runny noise), sneezing, and nasal congestion in 90% of

Differences observed before and after therapy were
significant and clinically relevant for all symptoms. The
patients who participated in the study rated efficacy,
tolerability and improvement in quality of life to be 80%,
92%, and 80% respectively.

Humidifiers and Air Purifiers

Humidifiers churn out a fine mist that infuses your
breathing air while you sleep. You then breathe in this
added moisture, which acts to thin mucus, allowing it to
better drain.

Complement your humidifier with an Air Purifier, which
filters your air and collects floating particles and allergens.
Want to know just how much stuff is floating in your air
unseen? Change out the air filter once a month and you will
see how much dust and dirt it collects.

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Simply drinking more water at night
can help to reduce clogged nasal