Sleep is precious for toddlers, and maybe even more so for their parents. When an occasional nighttime cough keeps a normally rambunctious toddler up at night, parents may be eager to understand the cause so everyone can get a better night’s sleep. If you’re a parent who is wondering “Why does my toddler cough at night,” read on for the science behind the cough and what you can do to help your child.
Why Is My Toddler’s Cough Worse at Night?
A cough is the sound made when the cough reflex clears the airway of an irritant.1 Many parents may find that their toddler’s cough is worse at night. This is typically because the mucus in a child’s nose and sinus cavity drains down their throats while they are lying down to sleep.4 This leads to irritation in the throat, which triggers the cough reflex.
It can be stressful to hear your child cough in the middle of the night, but parents should do their best not to worry unless the nighttime coughing is disturbing their toddler’s sleep for more than a couple of nights.2
Natural Remedies for an Occasional Cough at Night
A cough can be a good thing for your toddler, no matter how hard it is for you to hear. There are some ways that parents can help a toddler’s cough at night and help them get restful sleep.
- Place a humidifier in the room. Use a humidifier in your toddler’s bedroom to help moisten their airways.3 Another suggestion is to let your child breathe warm mist, such as from a hot shower running in a closed bathroom.1 These methods will relax the airway and loosen mucus before bedtime, to help ease a toddler’s cough at night.1 Inhaling humid air is not the only way to help a toddler’s cough at night.
- Keep your child hydrated. Staying properly hydrated can help to loosen mucus in the lungs and thins out mucus in the nose.1 If your toddler complains of an irritated throat from coughing, offer warm liquids, such as decaffeinated tea.3 Some children find that cold therapy helps their throats to feel better after coughing; a sugar-free popsicle might offer some relief to a dry or irritated throat.3
- Use a natural cough reliever. Children’s Naturals Cough+ Mucus†* Dietary Supplement from Robitussin is crafted with ivy leaf to relieve occasional cough associated with dry throat and irritants, as well as help clear mucus when coughing†*.5 Toddlers older than 3 might find some relief with Robitussin Children’s Naturals Cough Relief†* Gummies, which contain True Source Certified Honey and can help to relieve an occasional cough†*.5
When to Call a Doctor About Your Toddler’s Cough at Night
If your little one is not having any shortness of breath and is breathing and behaving normally, you usually do not have to contact your child’s doctor.2 However, if any of the following symptoms present themselves, reach out to your pediatrician2,3:
- A cough with a fever that persists for more than five day
- A cough that lasts for eight weeks or longer
- A cough that worsens over time, especially after the third week
- Labored breathing and shortness of breath
- Sleep that’s disrupted for more than a few nights due to coughing
- Night sweats and weight loss
- Coughing up blood
If your toddler’s cough and stuffy nose are present for longer than 10 days without improvement, talk to their pediatrician.
Encourage proper handwashing habits for your toddler to inhibit the spread of germs due to coughing. It can be hard to hear your toddler cough at night but know that occasional coughing is normal.3 So long as your little one’s sleep isn’t disrupted, know that their immune system is working as it should.
†Robitussin Naturals are DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS.
†Ivy Leaf relieves occasional cough and helps clear mucus associated with hoarseness, dry throat and irritants; non-naturally derived vitamin C (Immune Health gummies) and zinc (Immune Health liquids) support a healthy immune system.*
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
1. Cough Causes and Treatment. Children’s Hospital Colorado. https://www.childrenscolorado.org/conditions-and-advice/conditions-and-symptoms/symptoms/cough/. Accessed 12/1/2021.
2. Cough in Children. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. https://www.luriechildrens.org/en/blog/cough-in-children/. Accessed 12/1/2021.
3. Decoding your Baby’s Cough. Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. https://www.chla.org/blog/health-and-safety-tips/decoding-your-babys-cough. Accessed 12/1/2021.
4. Cough Symptoms and Causes. Boston Children’s Hospital. https://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions/cough. Accessed 12/1/2021.
5. Frequently Asked Questions About Robitussin. https://www.robitussin.com/frequently-asked-questions-about-robitussin/. Accessed 2/8/2022.