Allergies can affect many aspects of your life, from the discomfort of itchy, watery eyes to the difficulty of breathing through a stuffy nose. Not only do allergies cause problems during your workday, but they can also impact your nightly rest as well.
How Do Allergies Affect Your Sleep?
The symptoms of allergies, such as a runny nose, watery eyes, coughing, swollen airways and nasal congestion, can lead to abnormal breathing patterns, including mouth breathing and sleep apnea. Waking up periodically for coughing fits can also make it difficult to fall back asleep.
Breathing through the mouth while sleeping may be uncomfortable for some people and can result in a swollen throat and dry mouth upon waking. Itchy, watery eyes may swell during sleep and lead to sore, puffy eyes in the morning. Some people also have allergy-induced asthma, making the deep breathing of sleep difficult due to inflamed bronchial tubes.
In some cases, severe allergies may result in the sufferer developing sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a disorder in which you actually stop breathing in your sleep and awaken gasping for air. This is a medication condition that may require diagnosis and use of a breathing apparatus, called a CPAP, during sleep.
Types of Allergens That Can Affect Sleep
Allergies, whether it’s seasonal hay fever or year-round allergies to elements in your environment, can impact your ability to get a good night’s rest. Substances that can cause allergies are called allergens. There are four very common ones.
- Pet Dander: Pets, usually dogs and cats, continually shed flakes of dead skin.
- Pollen: Common in the spring and fall months, pollen spreads as trees and flowers reproduce.
- Mold: Mold spores are the reproductive particles that help spread mold.
- Dust Mite Remains: These microscopic creatures eat dead skin cells found in household dust.
Breathing in these allergens during the night can trigger allergic reactions, making it difficult to relax, fall asleep and experience restful sleep.
What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep?
Lack of sleep or poor sleep hygiene can have a cumulative effect on your overall health.
- Not getting enough sleep can make you feel cranky or like you are slogging through water the next day.
- Consistent lack of sleep can affect your appetite, causing you to crave salty or sweet foods and interfering with hunger cues.
- A shortage of deep sleep also inhibits your immune system, reducing its ability to fight off illness. A compromised immune system can increase the severity of your allergy symptoms, which, in turn, makes getting restful sleep even more difficult.
Treating Allergy Symptoms for Better Sleep
Changing the way you treat your allergies may benefit your quality of sleep. Always check with your doctor first before modifying your current medication plan to check for interactions or contraindications.
- Take your allergy medication at night, especially if you suffer from hay fever or seasonal allergies. Symptoms tend to peak in the early morning, so having the medication fully in your system overnight reduces the effects you experience on waking.
- Use saline nasal flushes. By pouring the solution into one nostril and allowing it to drain out the other, you may relieve a stuffy nose helping to ease breathing.
- Ask your doctor about changing your allergy medication. Certain steroid nasal sprays can reduce nasal secretions and sneezing as well as the rest of your allergy symptoms. Many of these are over the counter and have different formulas. Some may work better for you than others.
Lifestyle Changes to Manage Allergies
Your daily habits may be aggravating your allergies more than you realize, impacting your sleep and the overall quality of life. Make these changes to help improve your allergy symptoms and have more restful nights.
- Keep your windows closed. While it’s pleasant to hear the nighttime sounds or have a gentle breeze while sleeping, pollen and other allergens can enter, remaining in your home and becoming part of the air you breathe.
- Have regular mold inspections. Even small water leaks in the home can lead to mold growth, and mold spores are one of the most common allergens. Have your pipes and water heater checked every six months to prevent an environment for mold to form.
- Replace your HVAC filters every three months, and look for the types designed to reduce allergies.
- Monitor daily pollen counts, and reduce your outside activity on days with high pollen counts. If you do need to be outdoors on those days, change your clothes and shower immediately after coming home, limiting allergens’ spread in the house.
- Rehome pets if necessary. Pet dander is one of the leading causes of allergies. If you can’t rehome your pet, keep them out of your bedroom.
- Clean, clean, clean. Vacuum often, dust regularly and wear protective eye coverings and a mask while cleaning. Wash your bedding frequently, and invest in hypoallergenic mattress and pillow covers. If you use a humidifier, change the water often. Periodically drain it and allow all the parts to completely dry, preventing mold growth in the appliance.
- If you have a CPAP machine, clean and sanitize it regularly.
When to See a Doctor
If you find yourself constantly dozing off during the day or if lack of sleep and allergy symptoms are impacting your work and daily life, you may need professional treatment. This can include a regimen of allergy shots or a sleep study to diagnose sleep apnea. You may also want to undergo an allergen test to pinpoint specific substances so that you can avoid them in daily life.
While you may not be able to “cure” your allergies, there are several things you can do to reduce the effects they have on your sleep and your overall health. Talking symptoms over with a professional and making permanent lifestyle changes may improve your allergy symptoms and your sleep, giving you more energy and a clearer head.