It’s always nice when spring is here – but those of us with seasonal allergies might be a bit concerned about how this season affects our 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.
Why Do We Get Allergies?
Allergies come about when pollen (abundant in the spring) and other allergens, such as house dust and 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.
What Causes Allergies to Get Worse?
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, making nose breathing even more difficult. Also, exposure to dust mites and 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 drip 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 disrupt their partner’s sleep.
What Can You Do?
So what can we do during allergy season to help us get a good night’s sleep?
Make the Bedroom Ideal for Better Sleep
- Keep technology out of the bedroom.
- Keep the bedroom dark, cool and quiet.
- Keep bedroom windows closed to prevent allergens from coming in with the breeze.
- Check your heating and air conditioning systems. Make sure filters are clean.
- Change sheets and pillow cases regularly. Use natural fabrics and natural cleansers for your linens.
- 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 7 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.
- If you have pet allergies, keep your pets off the bed, and if possible, out of 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.
Take a More “Natural” Route
- Take a steam bath to help loosen up congestion so you can breathe more easily.
- Shower before bed. This helps to wash off any of the pollen or other allergens that transferred onto your body during the day.
- Have a cup of hot tea (herbal tea, not caffeinated!) or hot water with lemon to loosen up congestion. Try to avoid caffeine late in the day.
- 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.
- “Unplug” yourself from computers and other electronic devices an hour before bed.
If your allergies continue to keep you from getting the sleep that is so important to your health and well-being, talk with your doctor or allergist to get a full evaluation and figure out your treatment options.
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