Waking Up to a Blocked Nostril Could Be a Sign to Switch Your Sleep Position

No one likes to be congested. But it's especially frustrating when one nostril is perfectly clear and the other is blocked. It can happen when you're sick or dealing with allergies, but sometimes, you may notice you simply wake up after a good night's rest with a stuffed-up nostril, seemingly for no reason at all. And other times, you wake up after a fun night out and your right or left nostril is clogged. No matter the cause, dealing with one blocked nostril is never fun. So why does one nostril get clogged? Well, it can happen for a number of reasons, from your sleep position to your nasal cycle.

The good news is that a blocked nostril can typically be resolved. In fact, you can often address the root cause of the problem and start breathing easier with a few simple lifestyle interventions. To get better insight on this topic, POPSUGAR spoke to Anthony Cornetta, MD, a board-certified otolaryngologist at NYU Langone. Read on to learn more about why your nose is always blocked on one side and what can be done to fix it.

Why Is 1 Nostril Always Blocked?

Some potential and common causes for having one nostril blocked include:

  1. Your normal nasal cycle: According to Dr. Cornetta, the body naturally undergoes something called the "nasal cycle" in which congestion alternates between your two nostrils. This happens when the nasal turbinate, a small structure in the nose that cleans and humidifies the air you breathe, gets clogged. "The inferior turbinate is the one that causes limited airflow when congested," Dr. Cornetta says. "The turbinate can also be swollen on one side more than the other from allergies." (If it's allergies, you may also be sneezy or have itchy, watery eyes.) To correct the issue, he recommends a nasal steroid or nasal antihistamine spray. If the problem persists and interferes with your quality of life, it's time to see a doctor.
  2. Side sleeping: Side sleeping is a cozy position for many of us, but if you suffer from a clogged nostril, you may want to consider shifting the way you sleep. "Side sleeping can definitely cause nasal congestion," Dr. Cornetta tells POPSUGAR. It's not uncommon for the nostril facing down into the pillow to get more stuffy, as gravity will cause the mucous to travel to that side, he explains. To fix this, Dr. Cornetta recommends sleeping with your head in a slightly elevated position, propped up on the pillows. The Cleveland Clinic also recommends switching to sleeping on your back to see if that helps with general congestion.
  3. A deviated septum: "The nasal septum is the middle partition of the nose that separates the right and left nasal cavity," Dr. Cornetta explains. "A deviated septum is when this partition is crooked or misshapen." When the thin wall that separates your nostrils gets displaced to one particular side, your nostrils become different sizes. Breathing through the smaller side is more difficult and can create the feeling that one side of your nose is chronically clogged. "This is very common and rarely is anyone's septum perfectly straight," Dr. Cornetta says. "A deviated septum does not need to be related to trauma. It often occurs as our facial bones grow and develop. Correcting a deviated septum requires surgery." If you're concerned that you have a deviated septum, talk to your doctor.
  4. Nasal polyps: Nasal polyps can grow inside the nose and obstruct breathing, although Dr. Cornetta says this is rare and is usually accompanied by other symptoms such as forehead pressure and a loss of taste or smell. "They usually stem from allergies but not always," he notes. If you are experiencing these symptoms, it's recommended that you see a doctor right away. Once diagnosed with nasal polyps, your doctor may prescribe a nasal spray, oral medication, or, in some cases, steroid injections or surgery depending on the severity.
  5. Drinking alcohol: Have you ever woken up from a night out of drinking with one nostril blocked or general congestion? There are two physiological reasons that may happen. For starters, wine, beer, and spirits often contain histamine, a compound that elicits an allergic response (like sneezing and nasal congestion), per GoHealth Urgent Care. The other reason is that "some people have lower levels of the enzymes the body needs to break alcohol," and when alcohol byproducts aren't broken down quickly enough, it can cause a mild allergic reaction, GoHealth reports.

What Can You Do About a Blocked Nostril?

You don't typically need to be concerned about a more serious underlying condition when it comes to having a blocked nostril. "Nasal congestion is a very common problem," Dr. Cornetta says. Still, it can affect a person's daily life and often affects sleep as well. Fortunately, "there are many over-the-counter nasal and oral medications that people may try," Dr. Cornetta says. Using a humidifier, drinking water and clear fluids to clean out mucus, and changing your sleeping position can also help.

Other times, like in the case of a deviated septum or nasal polyps, a doctor can help assess the condition and suggest the appropriate treatment, whether that's prescribed medication, steroid injection, or surgery. Whenever the nasal congestion significantly affects your quality of life, you should seek medical care, Dr. Cornetta says.