Better Me

Navigating Allergies and Sleep: A Guide to Restful Nights

If you have allergies, you know how much they can disrupt your life. Spending time at someone’s house can have you scratching your eyes and wiping your nose if they have a cat or dog. It may feel like you’re constantly washing your sheets to keep dust mites at bay. And you don’t even think about opening your windows when pollen counts are high.

Pollen, dust mites, pet dander, mold spores, cigarette smoke or other substances can cause your allergies to flare up. 

Your immune system thinks allergens are a threat and tries to defend you causing symptoms like runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, watery or itchy eyes, rashes or hives. “These symptoms can cause sleep disruption,” said Sanjay Kaji, MD, a sleep medicine specialist with Banner – University Medicine. 

Are allergies affecting your ability to get a good night’s sleep? Dr. Kaji explained more about how allergies can affect your sleep and how to get a good night’s rest.  

The ways allergies can affect your sleep

Allergy symptoms can keep you awake. A runny nose can send you reaching for a tissue, and sneezing can wake you up. 

Nasal congestion can also make it harder for you to breathe through your nose causing you to wake up a lot during the night. You may need to drink water periodically throughout the night since you are breathing through your mouth more. You might also snore, which can disrupt sleep for both you and your bed partner. 

The inflammatory response you have during an allergic reaction can also affect your sleep since inflammation affects your respiratory system and nervous system. In addition, your body releases histamine when your allergies are flaring up. Histamine (a chemical produced by your immune system to help fight your allergies)  may keep you awake. 

Allergies can also make you more sensitive to things like changes in temperature, humidity or noise. 

When allergies interrupt your sleep, it can turn into a vicious cycle. When you’re not getting decent, restorative sleep, your immune system can’t work as well. Due to this, it is more likely you’ll react more strongly to allergens or develop other health conditions. And that makes it even harder for you to sleep. 

Signs that allergies are affecting your sleep

If you wake up a lot at night, you’ll most likely know if allergies are interfering with your sleep. Yet sometimes, it may not be as obvious that allergies are affecting your sleep. You might not even realize that you’re awake during the night. 

In addition to waking up a lot, the following signs could mean your allergies are bothering you at nighttime:

  • Waking up feeling tired
  • Snoring
  • Mouth breathing
  • Itchy or watery eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Sore throat
  • Trouble getting comfortable in bed

How to sleep better if you have allergies

Keeping allergens out of your bedroom can make a big difference in the quality of your sleep. Here are some steps you can take. You can choose the ones that may help based on the allergens that trigger your symptoms. 

  • “Use allergen-proof bedding and wash your sheets, pillowcases and blankets in hot water regularly,” Dr. Kaji said.  Cover your pillows, mattresses and duvets or comforters in allergen-proof covers to keep out dust mites. 
  • Choose hypoallergenic pillows. 
  • Minimize bedroom clutter so dust can’t collect.
  • Use air purifiers with HEPA filters and high-efficiency furnace filters to capture and remove allergens in the air. 
  • Wash and groom your pets often to help get rid of dander.

You can also take a few other steps, depending on the season:

  • In spring and summer when pollen levels are high, keep windows closed.
  • In the fall, clean up leaves and yard waste that can contain mold spores.
  • In the winter, keep humidity levels low to minimize dust mites.

You can also reduce the effect any allergens will have on your sleep:

  • Use a saline solution to rinse nasal passages and clear congestion before you go to bed.
  • Inhale steam before bed by taking a hot shower or running a humidifier.
  • Prop yourself up with an extra pillow to reduce congestion.
  • Sleep on your side so congestion is less likely.

When to see a health care provider

A lot of times, taking steps on your own can get your allergies under control and help you sleep comfortably. But you’ll want to see a provider if your allergies are persistent or severe, they are having a big impact on your day-to-day life, they aren’t improving with over-the-counter (OTC) medications or they are causing insomnia or daytime sleepiness.

Talk to your provider about your symptoms, lifestyle, sleep issues and concerns. “They can work with you to find a treatment plan so you can get the rest you need,” Dr. Kaji said.

Your provider may recommend:

  • Allergy testing so you can target the right allergens with treatment.
  • Prescription medications like antihistamines, decongestants, nasal corticosteroids or sprays. 
  • Immunotherapy such as allergy shots or sublingual tablets that teach your immune system not to respond so strongly to allergens. 
  • A continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, if allergies are making sleep apnea worse.

The bottom line

Allergies don’t just affect you in the day. Their symptoms can make it hard for you to get a good night’s sleep. By keeping allergens out of the bedroom and minimizing allergy symptoms, you can get the rest you need.

If you’ve tried steps to sleep better with allergies and they aren’t working well for you, talk to your health care provider or a Banner Health expert. A provider can work with you and get your allergies under control so you can sleep well all year round. 

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