Recliner Sleeping, or the Two-Pillow Trick


Certain stories and habits and language quirks develop and meld into the everyday narrative of family life. No matter how frequently it happens, I’m always surprised when one mundane detail in a long list of similar items that form the daily habits of my family appears remarkable or noteworthy to someone else.

My sister and I talked about this phenomenon the other day. Her family has created its own idioms to define circumstances very specific to her family, and those same expressions mean something else entirely to me. And vice versa:

When my daughters were little, I got in the habit of calling their bedtime routine *putting them down.* As in,

Mr. Asthma Mom, it’s 8:00. Will you put the girls down?

Unless you put your kids to bed with the same words, that phrase probably conjures up images of, say, a horse, a broken leg, and a gun. Am I right?

Last week, a new reader’s question reminded me that part of AG’s natural, everyday bedtime environment involves a pretty useful asthma tip I’ve never mentioned. Here’s part of that email, which I’ve modified very slightly to retain anonymity for the reader:

My son is dealing with another flare. About a month ago, I was diagnosed with walking pneumonia and remembered something my doctor told me that I thought I would try with my son. Sleeping in a propped up position. So he slept on a recliner in our sofa.

The results were quite remarkable. Obviously and unfortunately not a cure, but when he woke up this morning he said that was the best he has slept and felt (energy-wise) in a long time.

So my question to you is do you know of others with moderate asthma that sleep this way regularly that get better sleep and relief of the chronic congestion that accompanies asthma?

Yes, AG absolutely sleeps half-propped and has, in fact, for most of her life. Sleeping this way is her “normal,” so it’s never occurred to me to write about it here.

When she was very, very little and not diagnosed with asthma yet, baby AG used to experience what I thought were frequent, long-lasting colds with severe congestion and what we later discovered were untreated asthma flares. Many nights found me in the recliner, with her asleep stomach-down and upright against my upper body. In retrospect, it’s rather amazing. You couldn’t find a much more inexperienced mother than me during those first couple of years, but somehow nature – or, more accurately, nurture – kicked in to help me fumble my way towards the best non-medical relief for my daughter’s labored breathing.

Because as one of AG’s Florida specialists put it so succinctly:

Stomach down = less coughing
Head up = less congestion

As AG got older and grew too big to sleep on me, eventually I started propping her head up on two pillows instead of one to keep the post-nasal drip draining. She slept better this way and it became habit. In fact, my kid became so used to sleeping on two pillows that she can’t sleep well on one anymore, and not because of her asthma.

In the year and a half since I started Asthma Mom, I’ve forgotten to pass along this one simple tip because it’s so very ingrained into AG’s life. If, despite all your best efforts, you can’t get your asthma and/or allergic kid (or yourself) to stop coughing at night, try the two-pillow trick. Or the recliner trick.

Or do you already use it?