sinus congestion question: sleeping on one's side

So for most of my life, there has been a standard nighttime routine in the winters when the air is dry and my sinuses get a little clogged. I lie on my side to sleep, and eventually, the nostril/sinus on the side of my face closest to the pillow stuffs up. I roll over to the other side (thus making the clogged side now the “top” side) and eventually - due to gravity? - the congestion works its way back down to the other nostril/sinus. Roll over, lather, rinse, repeat.

But this winter, I’ve had an unhappy change in routine. When lying on a particular side, the “top” nostril/sinus gets clogged instead. It never “drains” (or whatever) and so I stay clogged on that particular side all night. It sounds minor, but I’m learning rapidly that I sleep better if I don’t stay on one particular side all night. I need to be able to roll over and switch sides. Now I can’t. Does anyone know why this change has occurred? Has gravity ceased to function inside the confines of my own skull?

(I was hoping for some factual info but if this leads to nothing but pure speculation, mods, pls feel free to move the thread.)

your nasal cavity is only two passages at your nostrils. Go back an inch and a half and its one hole. Lay on one side and the fluid will block the nostril closer to the gravity well.

If that isn’t happening your sinus infection may be in a gland feeding into only one nostril.

I’d see a doctor. If it is a sinus infection she may give you antibiotics to clear it out faster.

personally, I swear by afrin to sleep with sinus congestion.

Clarification: I don’t have a sinus infection. Just run-of-the-mill winter nose, where your nasal passages get dried out.
It’s always meant, for me, that after several hours of lying down sleeping, by the time dawn breaks my nose has gotten a bit stuffed up. It always clears once I’m up and about, and vertical.
I’d sleep standing up if I could!

If you think it’s just dryness - have you considered a humidifier?

Ditto. And, with that in mind, get one of those comforter sets that includes a gazillion pillows and sleep on that (at about a 45 degree angle).

Afrin type products, as mentioned, can help but can be addictive.

Also those Breathe Right strips. I need the Extra versions (ones with extra adhesive).

If you sleep with pets, wash the bedding more often.

Also, since you stated that your nasal passages are dry, you might want to buy a neti pot and use it to irrigate your nasal passages. A neti pot looks like an elongated tea pot that you fill with warm salted water and pour into one nostril and let the water drain out of the other nostril. I find that when I use the neti pot morning and night, my breathing improves dramatically.

IANAD and all that, but I do suffer from the same problem. I have found that putting a small amount of Mentholatum in each nostril right before I go to sleep really helps.


Hey Purplehorseshoe,

IANAD, but I do know a little bit about congestion. I have fairly bad allergies, have had sinus surgery, and I also have the same problem and experiences that you have.

The congestion comes from the fact that when you lay down, there is a swelling of the turbinates. They are a bunch of bone and erectile tissue in your nasal cavity. The turbinate tissue can fill with blood and stop up your nasal passage. This does not happen as often when you are standing up because the blood pressure in your head is less. When you are laying down, you have increased blood pressure in your head, and more specifically on the side that is closest to the ground. This means that the turbinates swell more on that side.

You are right, most of the time it will switch when you switch sides, but it does not always. If your body is convinced that that particular side needs to be more swollen, it will stay that way. I do not know why it does that, but my sinuses seem to go through seasons where they are more gravity controlled or more arbitrarily stopped up.

As mentined before, you can use spray nasal decongestants. However, be warned that they can become addicting with extend (5+ day) use and their continual use can cause nasal tissue damage. When they shrink the blood vessels in the turbinates (which releaves the congestion), this can also lead (in time) to the tissue not getting the proper amount of blood supply. This will eventually damage those tissues and the next thing you know, your nose will pull a Michael Jackson.

Products with psuedaphedrine (Sudafed and others that you have to buy from behind the pharmacy counter) work well, but since it is a mild stimulant, it can have other side effects such as high blood pressure and inability to sleep.

As always, if the problem continues and affects your ability to get a good night’s rest, I would see a doctor. An ear, nose, and throat doctor is a good place to start.

Edit: One final thought. You may have more of a problem when it is cold and dry because one of the turbinates’ jobs is to warm and humidify the air that is going into your lungs. They are just trying to do their job.