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?

79 responses to “Recliner Sleeping, or the Two-Pillow Trick”

  1. Allie says:

    My husband makes funny of me for the odd and precise pillow configuration I employ at night, but I can’t sleep with my head flat. Years of asthma/allergy issues just make it impossible.

  2. Kerri says:

    I never thought about this before.

    I’ve slept with two pillows for six years (when I was recovering from knee surgery, I’d kind of fall asleep hanging around watching TV all day while recovering, so I got used to it).

    Maybe that’s why my asthma rarely bothers me at night.

  3. Danielle says:

    Yes! I do this. I sleep with at least two pillows always and 4 to 5 if I’m flaring and desperately need sleep. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it on my blog either, because I’ve stopped thinking about it.


  4. Amy says:

    Isn’t this funny? It’s everyone’s “normal,” apparently–at least for readers of this blog.

  5. Alecia says:

    Wow, thank you for posting this. My daughter was just diagnosed with asthma so all of this is new to me. I’m still learning how to make her feel better. I definitely appreciate this tip. I did it last night with her and I think it made a difference. I love your blog and will continue to read it. Thanks for sharing all of your experiences.

  6. Amy says:

    Sure, no problem–thanks for reading!

  7. Lucy says:

    I love my log buring stove,but just been informed how badly it is affecting me and making my asthma worse, it will be a big miss in our family home but it’s got to go.

  8. Lesley says:

    Before my son was diagnosed with asthma I would elevate the head of his bed whenever he had a cold (which were actually likely undiagnosed asthma flares). When he was better I’d put the bed down and tell my husband – who never believed me – that I was sure our son would be getting another ‘cold’ again any day, since I was lowering the bed. I felt like it was just some kind of superstitious ritual to keep colds away (head of bed elevated = no cold) and I didn’t question the logic of that ritual, I just clung to it. In retrospect, I’m guessing that reflux was triggering asthma flares, and keeping the head of the bed up high was helping the reflux as well as helping during the flare itself. I eventually gave up and left the head of the bed elevated, and he continues to sleep (more peacefully) with it that way.

  9. Carol says:

    seems it’s almost always Spring that finds me having recliner nights…

    Another tip – My doctor recently told me to try a teaspoon of locally grown, honey, daily. Said he wouldn’t be surprised if it greatly alleviated symptoms. He said it must be locally grown, though. Some type of natural immunization. After tonight, think I’ll look for it. Anyone else hear of this or try it?

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  13. Hello everyone, I am a new mother and I’m trying to get my five month son to sleep through the night. Right now I am fortunate to get three hours sleep per night. Regards

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  15. Zoey says:

    I am a 12 year old girl, and I have suffered with Asthma my whole life. In these past two months I have been to the ER 4 times, resulting in Nebulizer Treatment, decadron, and a steroid to take for the next 5 days. Right as school started my pediatrician gave me a five day steroid to hopefully get me back and healthy, but soon after the steroid ended I started soccer, and caught a cold. Which brings me to the sleeping. I have always slept on my right side. Always. Studies have shown that you fall asleep quicker on your right side, and it’s rather comfortable for me so I have gotten used to it. The problem is that my breathing is normally well controlled by Flovent and when needed Albuterol, so I have no trouble in sleeping on my side, but due to my cold I wake up at like… 2:43 every morning in fits of coughing. I’ve been trying falling asleep on my back and it definitely has helped.

  16. Eidin says:

    Found this page… diagnosed w asthma maybe 9-10 years ago. Pillows help but I do find myself falling asleep on my side and take Dr prescribed alergy pill year round to be stable being around different polutants/chemicals in different enviorments.

    Natural things (dietary-lifestyle changes) that have a HUGE affect is cutting most dairy, wheat (gluten), and sugar (artfifcal) intake to little or none makes most symptoms go away and no need for most of the meds when eating that way. Also foods that are antiimflamatory are ginger, lemon, fruit flavored water, herbal teas, and honey &lemon in teas help when inhalers take longer to kick than other times.

    Thanks for night time info… didn’t realize till I read most comments.

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