The Allergy Insomnia Connection
It’s always nice when Spring comes around – but those of us with seasonal allergies might be a bit concerned about how this season affects their sleep. And with good reason! A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that people with hay fever and other allergies have difficulty sleeping. These folks are also more than twice as likely as non-allergy sufferers to deal with sleep disorders like insomnia.
Allergies come about when pollen, (abundant in the Spring!) and other allergens, such as house dust or pet dander, irritate the nasal passages. This causes symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes, and affects up to 50% of all Americans.
Insomnia, sleep apnea (irregular breathing), and other sleep disorders affect up to 30% of Americans.
Allergy symptoms tend to get worse during the night for a variety of reasons. Allergies cause the nasal passages to swell, so there’s less room for air to pass through, making nose breathing difficult. Cortisol, an anti-inflammatory hormone, is at its lowest level overnight. This causes a higher level of inflammation in the nose and lungs. Lying down to sleep brings gravity into play, and that can cause congestion to shift, which makes nose breathing even more difficult. Also, exposure to dust mites, or pets is more common at night, which increases allergy symptoms. And, histamine, which is actively involved in the regulation of sleep, may worsen allergy symptoms.
With all of this going on, it’s easy to see how breathing through the mouth could cause a dry mouth or sore throat. Postnasal drop from a runny nose can cause you to cough. Interrupted breathing, or sleep apnea, can lead to snoring. And when we’re not breathing properly, we’re more likely to get a headache. All of these things also interfere with our sleep.
It’s no surprise that the worse the allergy symptoms are, the more trouble people have both getting to sleep, and staying asleep. And even when they do sleep, allergy sufferers often report that they feel sleepy during the day. Most say that their allergy symptoms, like sneezing and sniffling, also disrupts their partner’s sleep.
So what can we do during allergy season to help us get through the night with a good night’s sleep?
First of all, make sure you follow the guidelines that The Better Sleep Council outlines for everyone to get a good night’s sleep, anytime of year:
-Keep the bedroom dark, cool, and quiet.
-Avoid caffeine late in the day.
-“Unplug” yourself from computers and other electronic devices an hour before bed.
-Keep technology out of the bedroom.
You can also add in some of the natural allergy remedies:
-Shower before bed. This helps to wash off any of the pollen or other allergens that transferred onto your body during the day.
-Keep bedroom windows closed to keep allergens from coming in with the breeze.
-Change sheets and pillow cases regularly. Use natural fabrics, and natural cleansers for your linens. Look for products that are labeled “hypoallergenic.”
-Take a steam bath to help loosen up congestion to help you breathe more easily.
-Have a cup of hot tea (herbal tea, not caffeinated!) or hot water with lemon, to loosen up congestion.
-Use a nasal saline rinse. This helps reduce the swelling in the nasal passages, and also washes out any pollen that might be in the nose. Nasal decongestant sprays are not recommended for allergies as long-term usage (more than 3 days) can actually make the nose more inflamed.
-If you have pet allergies, keep your pets off the bed, and if possible, out of the bedroom.
-Protect yourself from dust mites by using plastic covers for your mattress and pillow to avoid exposure at night. If your bed is older than 5 years old, consider buying a new mattress. Pillows should be replaced every 6 months, and certainly never be kept longer than 2 years. Look for a pillow that fills the gap between your head and shoulders when you lie down.
-Check your heating and air conditioner system. Make sure filters are clean. You may consider investing in an air filtration system for the bedroom.
-Vacuum carpets and furniture often. Some vacuums come with an extra allergy filter built in. If you have wood or tile floors, keep them free of dust and pet dander.
-To add moisture to the air, consider using a humidifier. Make sure the water is changed frequently so that mold doesn’t grow.
If your allergies continue to keep you from getting the sleep that is so important your health and well-being, talk with your doctor or allergist to get a full evaluation and figure out your treatment options.