Roommate won't stop coughing, I can't sleep.
September 21, 2007 6:46 AM   Subscribe

Roommate keeps coughing. I can't sleep. I don't want to be a jerkface. What do I do?

I live in a triple, we're all freshman at a university. My roomie (1) keeps coughing loudly, and it's driving me crazy. Sometimes, it's late and I can't sleep because of his coughing, and other times, it wakes me up hours before I need to go to class. I live in a triple, my other roomie (2) doesn't seem to care. He sleeps like a log, sometimes while listening to his iPod.

At the beginning of the year, we signed a housing agreement contract that listed any "rules" we would have to follow. I laughed it off, didn't write much, never knew that cough sleep would be an issue.

My logic is this: We can only sleep in one place (the room), but he can study/browse facebook in the library or the computer lab, at least when it's 12AM-9AM, and I'm trying to sleep. Do I approach roomie (1) alone? Do I gather a roomie meeting with both of them? Am I making a big deal out of nothing?
posted by theiconoclast31 to Human Relations (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:48 AM on September 21, 2007

Response by poster: His cough can pierce glass walls. I've tried earplugs already, but to no avail.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 6:51 AM on September 21, 2007

My thought exactly. There are some foam plugs that go into your ear canal that are fantastic. They're shaped kind of like big bullets. I've been wearing them when I sleep for more than ten years and they're great.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:52 AM on September 21, 2007

Speak to the residence management and ask for a transfer to another room.
posted by orange swan at 6:52 AM on September 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

Try running a small fan for the white noise. It doesn't have to be pointed at you, but have it close to your bed. It might help. Then, if he asks why you're running a fan in winter, it gives you an opening to tell him that he's keeping you up nights and is there anything he can do about the coughing? Like go to student health services.
posted by jvilter at 6:54 AM on September 21, 2007

Wait, does he cough in his sleep or when he is awake browsing facebook?
posted by 4ster at 6:54 AM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

How long is he going to be coughing? Assuming that school started recently, find out if it is a passing thing. Most 18 year olds do not have an eternal cough. Ask him if he is OK first.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:55 AM on September 21, 2007

Seconding orange swan. If they want you to put up with it then get your dept to say the lack of sleep is impacting your work or your doctor to say its impacting your health/quality of life then go back and see them again. Alternatively (or as well) get your roomie to see a doctor about his cough.
posted by biffa at 6:56 AM on September 21, 2007

You aren't making a big deal out of nothing. A dorm triple is a unique kind of hell, and having to endure small grievances like other people's hair in your sink, other people's dirty socks under your bed, and the noise at 4am on a Friday from the partiers down the hall are "just get over it"s. Not being able to sleep is not a "just get over it."

Is the cougher sick? Does he have a chronic condition (or is he a smoker)? Account for these things as best you can. If he's always had this loud hacking cough, it might just be something he does and he can't just stop. (Does he only do it when he's awake?) Be careful when criticizing him for specifically the coughing (as opposed to the noise itself), as it's probably not something he does on purpose or enjoys, and it might be a physical condition he can't fix.

But no matter the cause, if he's making noise that's preventing you from sleeping, you have a fair complaint.

Since you've already tried earplugs, the next step would be to try the white noise suggested upthread (which might be worse if you are a light sleeper). Failing that, you need to talk to him directly, one-on-one. Tell him that you wish you were as heavy a sleeper as Roommate #3, but unfortunately you aren't, and you tried earplugs but they didn't work for Reason X, and unfortunately you're really not getting enough sleep because he makes a lot of noise when he's in the room while awake.

If he's rational, and if you approach it calmly and with a no-fault attitude, he should say, "wow, sorry, man, I had no idea, I'll stay out in the common rooms if I am going to be up after you all are asleep."

If he's not rational about it, don't respond in kind. Go talk to the RA on your floor -- this is why they exist. Tell him that you tried to handle this yourself but you didn't get anywhere with the two solutions you tried, and that you'd like some assistance. RA can then talk to the roommate, or offer you suggestions.

Realize that ultimately, you might need to move to another room. Sometimes, airing roommate issues can create ill will that can manifest in very unpleasant ways. Or it might be as simple as the fact that you can't go your whole freshman year with no sleep.

I do think that you should avoid involving Roommate #3 on this, no matter what. He's not experiencing the problem, and he's not your mom. It's not fair to make him pick sides when he doesn't have a dog in the hunt. Besides, if you take the high road throughout, he'll likely take your side of his own volition if it comes to that.
posted by pineapple at 7:01 AM on September 21, 2007

Is he coughing in his sleep or while he is up late?

Have a polite conversation with him - "Dude, its tough to sleep when you're hacking away all night. I don't want to be a jerk, but is it possible for you to study in another place while your cough holds up?"

If its while he's while he's sleeping, maybe buy him some NyQuil and put up with it the best you can - not much he can do if he's trying to treat it
posted by jpdoane at 7:02 AM on September 21, 2007

I actually had a persistent cough my sophomore year – bugged the hell out of me. I felt fine just this damn cough. I eventually went to the Dr and got medicine so you may just want to tell your roommate “Hey are you OK? Do you need to go to the clinic?”

He probably should get checked out and this way your not being a dick.
posted by doorsfan at 7:02 AM on September 21, 2007

I think you need to have a discussion with the roommate, in the context of being concerned about his health (which you should be). If he doesn't immediately clue in, take it to your RA (assuming you have one)- that's what they're there for.

Remember- treat this as a health issue, not a "he's too loud" one.
posted by mkultra at 7:06 AM on September 21, 2007

I didn't realize notice how chronic my "little cough" was at my work until someone asked me a few times about it. I saw a doctor and he found a lung infection... two weeks with a pump and it was gone. You don't know how many times I've thanked that coworker for speaking up and making me realize what I'd become used to.
posted by furtive at 7:17 AM on September 21, 2007

Maybe try synchronizing your schedules, so you aren't trying to sleep while he's up and making noise.
posted by smackfu at 7:20 AM on September 21, 2007

If roommate #3 is snoring throughout this, the cougher probably isn't aware that he's keeping you up unless you tell him. Most people (from those who talk during movies to those who tap their feet in the library) will be cool about it if you politely let them know it's bugging you. Like others said, approach it as a health issue first. "Hey man, I heard you coughing all last night. Are you alright? Maybe you should go to the student clinic." If he doesn't go after a few days, say "Dude, I really need you to see someone about that cough, or go to the lounge if you're going to stay up late. It's keeping me awake and I have chemistry class at 8 am."
posted by desjardins at 8:11 AM on September 21, 2007

Just a note, re: earplugs. I find the silicone ones made for swimmers (Mack's Earplugs, I think) much MUCH more effective than any foam ones I've ever tried. I'm a light sleeper, and these help me stay blissfully zonked through almost anything. I don't hear snoring, I don't hear Mr. Tigerbelly get up, and in the AM I only barely become cognizant of a dim chattering when his *blaring* radio-clock alarm goes off.
posted by tigerbelly at 8:28 AM on September 21, 2007

I drove my ex-husband crazy with a cough that only happened when I was sleeping, and I had no idea about it. After a more than a few nights of sleeping on the couch, we discovered that a humidifier helped immensely. It seemed that if the heat or AC was blowing at my face or above it, my cough would be exacerbated, but if I faced away from it, I was much more tolerable. Perhaps when you mention his cough from an angle of concern, you can suggest a humidifier as well as a trip to the doctor. The humidifier even helped with my cough when I was awake, which made me realize I was coughing more than I knew.
Cough medicine also helped, but that's not a long-term fix.
posted by Iamtherealme at 9:10 AM on September 21, 2007

I was also going to suggest a humidifier.
posted by radioamy at 11:07 AM on September 21, 2007

It could also be asthma. Not all asthmatics wheeze... some of us cough instead. You need to speak up and ask him to stay in the common rooms when he's awake and you're trying to sleep, and he needs to see a doctor.
posted by happyturtle at 1:24 PM on September 21, 2007

I want to second convincing him to see a doctor or visit the clinic, as such a persistent cough is not a sign of good health in general. I had a cough which I tried to treat by way of air purifiers (humidifiers may be useful depending on the type of cough - dry vs. productive - so keep aware of that if you try that route), extra pillows (so that I didn't lie as flat), trying to drink more fluids before sleeping etc, but which eventually turned out to be Lymphoma.

I'm not saying your roommate has some kind of disease, but persistent, all night coughing is something that is worth talking to a medical professional about. It may be allergies or some kind of irritant that can be helped by various palliative methods. It's perfectly reasonable to ask him to get help - really, you're doing him a favor, as it's a state he has gotten used to, but which honestly isn't a good state to be in.

so, best method, treat the cause (medicate disease or allergy, remove allergens / purify air, though if it's a persistent cough it's unlikely just air quality issues);
second best, treat the symptom (cough meds, purify / humidify / dehumidify the air - may be exacerbated by air quality if not caused, etc)
third best, treat the effect (ear plugs, white noise machine, change sleep habits or sleep location - by talking to RA or meeting new friends...)
posted by mdn at 1:26 PM on September 21, 2007

I had this problem my freshman year. I approached my roommate and asked her, in a way that seemed like I was concerned for her health, if maybe she could get it checked out by a doctor. She pretty much ignored me. I tried ear-plugs and noise-canceling headphones to no avail.

Ultimately I moved was worth it. Talk to an RA and get the heck out of dodge ASAP.
posted by melissam at 8:45 AM on September 22, 2007

Last year, I WAS roommate number one. I was almost constantly sick (due, I think, to living in a building with central air that pumped the exhalations of a hundred students into my room), and I had a persistent cough. I would also stay up late on the computer.

I didn't even realize that I was disturbing my roommate- I thought she was asleep. It was over a week before she finally spoke up, at like one o'clock one night, and asked me to please take my computer to the lounge because she couldn't sleep.

I was mortified that I had been keeping her up all week without realizing it, and I immediately left for the lounge. Afterwards, we agreed that if I was awake after 12:00 and she was not, that I'd take my work elsewhere. It was never a problem after that.

(We also had a third roomie who slept like a log, incidentally.)

(Also incidentally, I am SO glad to be out of the dorms now.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:17 AM on September 22, 2007

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