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Tips for Better Sleep When You Suffer Allergies

Seasonal allergies can disrupt your sleep. Here are some things that can help.

Key points

  • When allergens enter our bodies, an immune response is produced to get rid of the offending allergen. This can disrupt sleep.
  • Allergies to pollen are seasonal, but allergies from dust, mold, or dander can occur year-round in perennial allergic rhinitis. 
  • Certain tips can help: keep doors and windows shut, shower before bed, consider a nighttime allergy medication.
Diana Polekhina on Unsplash
Source: Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

The arrival of spring means the return of pleasant weather and spending more time outdoors with family, friends, and pets. But for many, the arrival of spring also means the return of seasonal allergies and all the discomfort and misery that comes with them.

This is especially true if your allergy symptoms occur at night, causing you to lose sleep, wake up feeling tired and sluggish, and feel exhausted throughout the day. Reactions to allergens can vary from person to person, but how exactly do allergies disrupt our sleep?

How Allergies Disrupt Sleep

Seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever or allergic rhinitis, can disrupt your sleep in a number of ways. When allergens enter our bodies, an immune response is produced to get rid of the offending allergen.

This immune response in turn produces the familiar symptoms and discomfort many have come to know during allergy season. Some symptoms created by these reactions include:

  • Nasal Congestion
  • Stuffy or Runny Nose
  • Fatigue
  • Itchy or Watery Eyes
  • Sneezing or Coughing

Irritation in your nasal passages can cause coughing or sneezing, which can prevent you from falling asleep, or even wake you with a start during the night.

Nasal congestion or a stuffy nose can make it difficult to breathe while you’re trying to fall asleep, resulting in snoring or a restless night. For some people, allergy symptoms may be masking an underlying sleep disorder like insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In fact, sleep disorders are often underreported in people with allergies, which can make these sleepless nights even more miserable.

Now that we know how allergies can affect our sleep, let’s take a look at some common causes of seasonal allergy symptoms.

Common Seasonal Allergies

Some common allergens include pollen, dust mites, mold spores, or pet dander. Different types of pollen can create symptoms throughout allergy season based on the periods these plants are in bloom. Allergies to dust, mold, or dander can occur year-round in what’s known as perennial allergic rhinitis.

Whether your allergies occur seasonally or year-round, your doctor or an allergist can determine what’s triggering your symptoms by examining your medical history as well as conducting a few tests. But what if the cause of your allergies is a member of your own family, and you don’t even realize it?

Pet Allergies

We all love our pets, but cats and dogs may also be inadvertently contributing to our allergy symptoms.

A major source of pet allergens is dander, which is made up of dead skin flakes that our pets shed. Others may include saliva, urine, and even blood. These allergens, like others, can be easily circulated through the home, where they can remain on soft surfaces like carpet and furniture for months.

But don’t worry, there are ways you can still enjoy your pets’ companionship and affection without exacerbating your symptoms.

  • Wash your hands after playing with your pet
  • Wear a mask and rubber gloves while cleaning litter boxes
  • Keep pets off furniture, and out of the bedroom of the allergic individual(s)
  • Dust and vacuum often

Taking the proper precautions with your pets can go a long way towards relieving your allergy symptoms. Thorough cleaning of bed linens, vacuuming rugs, and dusting surfaces near the bed can help reduce allergens that accumulate and trigger allergy symptoms at night. Even if you don’t have pets, regular cleaning, dusting, and vacuuming will help keep indoor allergens to a minimum, helping you breathe easier.

How to Sleep Better During Allergy Season

To help reduce the number of outdoor and indoor allergens in your home and get a full night’s rest, check out these simple tips.

1: Keep Doors and Windows Closed

While it’s tempting to invite the nice spring air inside rather than using air conditioning, you may want to reconsider if you have allergies to pollen. Keeping doors and windows closed will keep extra allergens out of your home, and help keep your symptoms under control.

2: Shower Before Bed

A warm bath or shower washes away any lingering allergens on your body, as well as helps you unwind before bed.

3: Take Allergy Medication at Night

You’ll want to check with your doctor before you do this, but taking any allergy medication at night will make sure that the medication won’t wear off in the middle of the night, and will stay strong while you sleep. If you are taking an over-the-counter medication, check the ingredients to be sure it doesn’t have caffeine or other stimulants that might keep you awake.

4: Reduce Nasal Congestion

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that if you struggle with snoring or nighttime allergies, I encourage you to decongest for better rest.

Using a saline solution or a neti pot before bedtime can reduce the size of inflamed nasal tissue, and clear those passages, allowing you to breathe easier.

5: Adjust Your Laundry Routine

If you spend a lot of time outside during allergy season, put your clothes into the wash as soon as you come inside for the day. Avoid letting your clothes dry outside— this can attract more pollen and allergens. Instead, put your clothes in the dryer to keep them allergen-free.

If you’re especially concerned about allergens in your home, there are a variety of hypoallergenic sleep products available to help keep seasonal allergies in check.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, FAASM, The Sleep Doctor