I don't know about you, but I'm feelin'... Sicker at night.


Is it just me, or is Penn State a breeding ground for common colds and allergies? My roommate Laurel and I have been sick for what seems like eternity. Whether I'm waking her up with my throat-clearing or she's startling me with her hacking cough, we've come to the conclusion that we feel much sicker at night than we do during the day. I want to know why this is the case and what we can do to make it through a night's sleep free of interruptions.

So what is the science behind the nighttime coughing going on in my dorm room? A little research has taught me that in my specific case, there are three main reasons: gravity and an open window, and our dorm room itself. It doesn't take a doctor to point out the obvious; when we lie down on our backs, all the gunk falls down into our throats. But, to understand this a little better, I looked to infectious disease specialist Dr. Mitchell Blass. He says that the post-nasal drip coagulates around the gastroesophageal junction which can cause the gastroesophageal reflex to kick in. The junction is where the stomach is attached to the esophagus and the reflex helps protect the junction by clearing the substances out in a cough. Even though it can come at the cost of waking each other up, Laurel and I should remember that coughing is a good thing--each hack breaks down the mucus build up and (hopefully) brings us one step closer to health.

The second reason is that we leave the window of our dorm room open while we sleep. If you know either of us, you know that we're huge snugglers--it's next to impossible for either of us to fall asleep unless we're cocooned in our fluffy comforters and big blankets. We're definitely cozy, but it can get a little warm under there. Keeping our window open overnight for a slight breeze seemed like the perfect solution... keyword: seemed. Little did we know, our nightly routine of opening the window may have been what perpetuated our sickness into the semester-long cycle we've been stuck in.  According to the American Lung Association, 60% of us are breathing outdoor air that is unhealthy at night. Chances are, we're a part of that majority.

Unfortunately, leaving the window open does not purify the air in our room. This leads me to the last reason: indoor pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency "lists poor indoor air quality as the fourth largest environmental threat to our country" and that, in some cases, it is worse indoors than outdoors. As two sick girls living in a tiny space that is decades old, we can expect pollutants from bacteria and viruses, to mold and mildew, to dust mites and pollen. Ew.

The little girl below is adorable, but I'm so glad that I don't look like her anymore.


With our Science 200 hats on, Laurel and I decided to run a little experiment. Our hypothesis was that if we slept with our heads propped up under multiple pillows, used fans instead of the outside air to keep us cool at night, and cleaned and vacuumed the room, we would feel better within a few days. Those three factors were the manipulated variables and our health was the responding variable. Neither Laurel nor I have had a coughing fit in three nights! Of course the results of our simple experiment may have been due to confounding variables (like increased fluid intake) or chance. But, whatever the case may be, we are feeling better than we have all semester. These changes were all very easy to make. That being said, if you're experiencing a similar problem to us, it would be a good idea to make them yourself. 


This is a good blog post because when I'm sick, I too, feel worse at night like you described in your post. I also feel worse when I wake up in the morning but that could be from sleeping in those conditions that you listed in your blog. I think its also interesting that you took an initiative to fix your sickness and related it to SC 200 by running a little experiment on your own.

I have to agree with you on some points. Colds and other sicknesses tend to spread more when there are more people around in a close proximity environments such as dorms, common areas, and classrooms. Plus it is cool that you decided to experiment on this because you were inspired by SC 200.

Your reasons on why people feel more sick at night is actually very interesting. So the second reason explains that outdoor air at night is unhealthy, so we shouldn't open the window. Does that apply to all temperatures of outdoor air? Does that mean sleeping outdoors in itself is unhealthy?

However, I agree with everyone at State College being sick. My roommate and I are also kind off sick at the moment (think I got it from him) and I really believe its just because of the fact everyone is closer together.

Watch this girl cough and fall off a swing, happens around 2:39.

Hi Brian! I'm sure there are many cases where sleeping outdoors in itself is unhealthy, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that we shouldn't do it. Even the safest things have risks. Actually, your questions remind me of what Andrew said in class yesterday--he told us that nothing is safe, not even laying in bed all day. You also bring up a good point about living in close quarters. Though it could be due to chance, it seems plausible that Laurel's and my germs were feeding off of each other and preventing either of us from getting well. I probably wouldn't do this but if we really wanted to find out, maybe one of us could sleep in a friend's room for a week while the other one slept alone in our room and held the rest of their habits constant.

...If we ditch catch our colds from each other and it is not just from each of us individually being in a poor environment, I wonder how it was actually transmitted. This article details how the transaction can occur. http://www.drmirkin.com/morehealth/9941.html

This was a great blog post! I've been sick for the last few days, and it has been worse at night, which was driving me insane. Thanks to your post, I know why that is the case, now. I've been feeling better today, so hopefully I'm getting over the sickness, but I'll still keep your tips in mind.

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