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Can Allergies Affect Your Sleep?

Allergies are known to negatively affect the quality of life, but what are the effects of allergies on quality sleep? With the increased prevalence of allergic rhinitis throughout the world, it’s important to consider how allergies and allergy medication may affect your quality of sleep.

The Effect of Allergies on Quality Sleep

Studies show that AR affects up to 42% of the general population and is shown to impair sleep quality. As such, there's a demonstrated positive correlation between AR and sleep disorders.

Nasal congestion is a common symptom of AR, and research suggests a relationship between AR and nasal obstruction and sleep disturbances, including abnormal breathing during sleep, snoring and sleep apnea.

There's also a positive correlation between the prevalence of asthma and sleep apnea compared to the prevalence of sleep disturbances and daytime sleepiness. Out of all of these cases, 71% of asthma patients had AR. People with AR experience more severe and frequent sleep apnea during symptomatic nasal obstructions than when they have no symptoms.

Other studies demonstrate associations between AR and other forms of poor sleep quality or sleep disorders. This includes prolonged sleep onset latency, disrupted sleep, sleep medication use and insomnia.

How Does Poor Sleep Quality Affect Your Wellness?

If AR is affecting your sleep quality, you may experience the following:

  • Daytime sleepiness or drowsiness
  • Impaired cognitive function
  • Decreased learning ability
  • Reduced productivity at work or school
  • Emotional distress
  • Poor physical recovery
  • Sleep disturbance or deficiency
  • Decreased overall cognitive functioning

Common Allergens That Affect Sleep

An allergy is a response or reaction by your immune system to something that's not usually harmful. Your immune system recognizes these substances and releases chemicals such as histamines in reaction. Histamines are what cause allergy symptoms.

Symptoms of allergies include:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Itching
  • Nasal passage swelling
  • Hives and skin rashes
  • Itchy or runny eyes

Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis

If you experience allergy symptoms during certain times of the year, you likely have seasonal allergic rhinitis. Tree pollen is associated with springtime allergies, while grass and weed pollen are associated with summer. If you experience symptoms in late summer or fall, you may be allergic to ragweed.

Perennial Allergic Rhinitis

If you experience allergy symptoms consistently throughout the year, then you may be reacting to indoor allergens. Common indoor allergens include dust mites, mold and animal dander. Rodents and cockroaches may also be responsible for traces of allergenic substances in your home.

Nonallergic Rhinitis

This isn't technically an allergy as it doesn't involve an immune response and doesn't cause inflammation. It may, however, have similar symptoms as allergies and, as such, can have similar sleep-impairing effects. Nonallergic rhinitis can be brought on by exercise, eating, exposure to cold or dry air, air pollutants and strong smells.

How Allergy Medications Affect Sleep

Many people choose to treat their allergies with allergy medications. A common form of allergy medication is antihistamines, which treat allergy symptoms by blocking histamines. Antihistamines come as pills, chewable tablets, capsules, liquids, nasal sprays and eye drops. Histamine receptors in your body also affect levels of wakefulness, so antihistamines are known to increase daytime sleepiness or drowsiness. In fact, antihistamines are often used in sleep aid medicines. Antihistamine medicine may have a lingering effect and cause you to feel drowsy the next day. Additionally, they may lead to sleepwalking and parasomnias. While they may help with sleep onset, the quality of sleep is often poor. Some studies suggest that the short-term benefits are negligible, while long-term use is associated with reduced wellness.

Other types of allergy medication are available, usually over the counter. Nonsedating antihistamines, typically available in spray forms, minimize drowsiness. Decongestants are sometimes also used in combination with antihistamines and come in nasal spray and oral forms. They're intended for short-term relief.

To treat allergies without exacerbating sedation and daytime sleepiness, you may instead use a nasal corticosteroid. These medications treat inflammation and reduce allergy symptoms. They also may improve sleep and sleep problems and, consequently, fatigue and daytime sleepiness.

Alleviate Allergy Symptoms and Sleep Better

If you prefer not to use allergy medication, then you can improve your sleep quality by avoiding known allergens. Here are a few ways to help avoid allergens and alleviate symptoms.

Avoid Pollen Exposure

If you have a pollen allergy, the most important thing to do is avoid the outdoors during high pollen levels. Keep your windows and doors closed. If you go outside during high pollen levels, you can wear an N95 mask to avoid inhaling the pollen. When you come back inside, make sure to shower and change your clothes to get rid of the pollen. Also, keep your air conditioning ducts and filters clean.

Air Conditioners, Air Filters and Air Purifiers

Regardless of whether you're allergic to outdoor or indoor substances, you can use air conditioning and air filtering to help alleviate your allergy symptoms. These systems can filter out common allergens that may be lingering in the air and on surfaces in your home. Avoid fans, as they bring in outside air. Room air purifiers are another way to help limit the allergens in your environment.

Reduce Stress

While reducing stress may not directly reduce allergy symptoms, some professionals indicate a mind-body connection when it comes to inflammatory conditions. They theorize that if you alleviate your stress, then your stress hormones should abate. This would likewise reduce your allergic or inflammatory response. Consider how you can decrease your personal stress and try to practice it daily.

If your allergies are causing a significant disturbance in your sleep quality and, consequently, quality of life, you should consider seeing a doctor for professional advice. They may be able to suggest better medication choices or offer individualized lifestyle changes to help alleviate allergy symptoms.

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