Uncomfortable allergy symptoms, such as stuffy nose and itchy eyes, can cause trouble with both falling asleep and staying asleep. In fact, 40% of adults and children with allergies say they experience poor sleep.
Common seasonal allergies are not the only allergens that can wreak havoc on your sleep. Any type of chronic allergy that irritates your nose, respiratory tract, or skin can cause sleep issues. For example, pets in the home and dust around the house can trigger an allergic response. We discuss how allergies can affect your sleep, and what you can do to get a better night’s rest.
How Allergies at Night Affect Sleep
Allergic rhinitis, commonly known as allergies, can make it difficult to sleep. When you breathe in a substance you are allergic to, called an allergen, the nasal passages become irritated and inflamed. This causes those pesky allergy symptoms that may keep you up at night.
About 90% of people with allergies report nasal congestion, and nighttime nasal congestion is believed to be the main cause of disturbed sleep in people with allergies. Nasal congestion can make breathing difficult during sleep, causing snoring and pauses in breathing called apneas.
Other bothersome symptoms of allergies that may contribute to poor sleep include:
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Skin irritation
These symptoms can impact sleep in multiple ways. For example, sneezing can prevent people from falling asleep and can also wake people up. Many people also report having a hard time falling back to sleep after their symptoms wake them. Furthermore, research suggests that the more severe the symptoms are, the greater the sleep disturbance.
Allergy symptoms tend to be worse at night and in the early morning hours. Experts suspect that this is because allergic reactions may be subject to the body’s internal clock that controls many physiological functions on a 24-hour basis. So it’s not just that lying down can worsen congestion—your body’s clock actually makes symptoms worse while you sleep.
Moreover, the inflammatory agent histamine plays a role in both allergic response and the sleep-wake cycle. High levels of histamine that are present when you’re exposed to allergens can lead to wakefulness at night.
While allergies seem to impact sleep, the relationship appears to go both ways. Some experts theorize that duration of sleep can affect immune response. For example, research has shown that people who do not get enough sleep may become more sensitive to certain allergens.
Types of Allergies
Allergies are classified as either seasonal or perennial. Those with seasonal allergies, also called hay fever, tend to react to pollens, grasses, and molds that are in the air. These allergens can make sleeping at night difficult, especially during peak pollen seasons.
There are also many different allergens that are present year-round that your immune system may respond to if you have perennial allergies. Substances such as mold, pet dander, and dust are often found indoors and may trigger symptoms at night when you’re trying to sleep. Symptoms may be most prevalent during the winter months when more time is spent inside.
Seasonal and perennial allergies may cause different symptoms. People with seasonal allergies tend to have a runny nose, sneezing, and watery eyes, while perennial allergies are more likely to cause nasal congestion, nasal obstruction, and postnasal drip.
Common Sleep Issues From Allergies
Allergies can cause a variety of sleep difficulties ranging from the occasional fitful night sleep that causes daytime tiredness to diagnosis with a sleep disorder.
For people with allergies, not getting enough sleep can take a toll on quality of life. They often don’t feel refreshed in the morning, and they may feel tired throughout the day. Some people report feeling anxious or depressed due to lack of sleep. They may also struggle with daily tasks and activities, especially at work.
Allergies are also very common in children, and just like adults, children with allergies often have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. They are also likely to experience fatigue during the day and insomnia because of their allergies. As a result, they may miss school or have trouble learning and paying attention during the school day.
For some people with more severe allergic rhinitis, symptoms can lead to more serious sleep problems. For example, people with allergies are more likely to be diagnosed with insomnia. If left untreated, allergies can also cause sleep-disordered breathing events, and people with allergies are more likely to develop sleep apnea.
Allergies and Sleep Apnea
Allergies can increase the chance of developing obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). You breathe through your nose when you sleep, so when you’re congested, you may experience nasal obstruction. This can lead to upper airway obstruction and may contribute to the development of sleep apnea.
Research suggests that children with allergies are also at increased risk of sleep-disordered breathing, including sleep apnea. Sleep apnea in kids is associated with behavioral issues, learning challenges. In the most serious cases, it may interfere with children’s growth.
The good news is that when allergy symptoms are treated, the number of sleep apnea episodes tends to decrease if the two are indeed linked.Shop the Best Mattresses for Allergies
Sleeping Better With Allergies
Although allergies can impair sleep and quality of life, it’s certainly possible to minimize symptoms.
Airborne pollen is a major cause of allergy symptoms, and therefore is a likely culprit for sleep issues during certain seasons. If you’re sensitive to seasonal pollen, experts recommend reducing your exposure to the trees, grasses, or ragweed that you react to. Allergists suggest several helpful strategies:
- Stay inside
- Avoid cutting grass and gardening
- Drive with windows rolled up
- Sleep with windows closed
There are also steps you can take inside your home to reduce your exposure to chronic indoor allergens that could irritate your nasal passages and consequently impair your sleep.
- Filter your air: Use high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuums and filters to remove as many allergens from the air as possible.
- Keep your bedding clean: Frequently wash your bedding in hot water to make sure no allergens are lurking there while you’re trying to sleep.
- Protect your mattress: Encase your mattress to protect it from dust mites and other allergens.
- Clean your carpets: Vacuum often to eliminate allergens, or consider removing your carpet altogether.
- Dry it out: Use a dehumidifier to keep your indoor environment dry and less welcoming to mold and dust mites.
- Keep pets out: Don’t let pets sleep in your bedroom and especially in your bed.
Best Position to Sleep With Allergies
The way you sleep can also make a difference in your sleep quality, as certain sleep positions can relieve or worsen allergy discomfort. Lying down can exacerbate congestion, so try to sleep as upright as possible, perhaps by propping your head up with some extra pillows. Also, sleeping on your side may help keep your airway open while you sleep.
Those experiencing nighttime congestion may find it useful to sleep with a wedge pillow. These types of pillows can ensure that your head and neck remain in an elevated position while you sleep, which may help prevent nasal blockages and postnasal drip in the throat.
Ask Your Doctor About Allergy Treatments
If allergy symptoms persist and affect your sleep and quality of life, it may be time to talk to your doctor.
Your doctor may be able to identify the allergen or allergens that are causing your concerns. You can also discuss treatment options with your doctor. Sometimes, simply flushing out the sinuses with a saline solution of salt and warm water helps to rinse out mucus and allergens. There are also medications available to treat nasal congestion and help you sleep better.
Frequently Asked Questions About Allergies
Allergies are quite common. Approximately 10% to 30% of adults and 40% of children have allergic rhinitis.
Melatonin has shown some promise in improving inflammation and sleep in people with allergies. You should always consult your doctor before starting any new treatment.
There are several mattresses on the market that may benefit people with allergies. Look for high-quality, hypoallergenic materials. Mattresses that contain layers of foam or latex generally resist dust mites, mildew, and mold.
Certain types of bedding, such as down-filled bedding, should be avoided because they can make allergy symptoms worse. Also make sure to use machine-washable bedding. Weekly washing of sheets, blankets, and pillow cases can keep allergens from building up.
Ask the Sleep Doctor
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