Everyone dreams of getting a good night’s sleep. But if you’ve got allergies, trying to catch some zzz’s can be a downright nightmare. In fact, studies show, people with allergies are more than twice as likely to suffer from insomnia and other sleep disorders.
“Allergy symptoms can flare up at night when we are sleeping and allergens surround us in the bedroom,” Dr. Neeta Ogden, a member of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s Medical Scientific Council and Director of the Allergy, Asthma and Sinus Center in New Jersey, tells Yahoo Life. “Indoor allergies can present with more chronic symptoms like snoring, cough, chronic congestion and even chronic sinusitis.”
The number one thing you need to get rid of in your bedroom
The average person spends a third of their life in the bedroom. Unfortunately, this is also where a lot of allergens live. One of the most common is the dust mite. “Dust mites are an ever-present part of mattresses, pillows and bedding,” says Ogden. “They harbor in the dark cool fibers and feed off of human skin scales.” dr Brian Greenberg, an allergist and immunologist with Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life that he recommends encasing mattresses and bedding in an allergy-proof material, saying it “creates a barrier between the nose and the dust mites that are in there .”
If you’ve been looking for an excuse to install some new hardwood floors, dust mites could be your reason. These microscopic bugs tend to dwell in carpeting and rugs. “If you’re an allergy sufferer, you really shouldn’t have carpets or rugs at all,” Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist and immunologist at NYU Langone Health, tells Yahoo Life.
Reconsider letting your pet sleep with you
As much as you may love your four-legged family member, that pet could be wreaking havoc on your sleep. Animals with fur or feathers shed tiny flecks of skin called dander that can trigger allergy symptoms. “If a dog or cat walks into a bedroom and spends five minutes in there, there’s going to be some dander for months,” says Greenberg.
And it’s not just what pets leave behind, but also what they bring in. “If your pet goes out to go to the bathroom and comes in, and if you allow them to sleep in your bed with you, you’re basically just bringing in whatever pollen is outdoors,” Dr. Sandra Hong, an allergist with Cleveland Clinic tells Yahoo Life. But as many owners know, some pets simply insist on bunking with you. Greenberg says, “If that’s the case, then regular grooming becomes an important thing.”
Pollen on your pajamas?
Felix and Fido may not be the only ones to blame for carrying allergens into the bedroom. “Pollen is in the hair, it’s in the eyebrows, and it’s just coating our skin and our clothing,” says Hong. This is why doctors say it’s best to change your clothes and fully shower once you come inside to keep the pollen from collecting in your home. If washing your hair daily isn’t doable, Hong suggests keeping it protected while outdoors. “I think at least having some sort of covering to the hair can prevent the pollen that’s landed in it during the daytime from getting on your pillow and you placing your face into it,” she says.
And as tempting as it is to crack your bedroom window at night and let in those cool spring breezes, you’re also inviting pollen in. “Typically, they’ll wake up not knowing what truck hit them because they’ve got a ton of nasal congestion, they’ve got a tone of drainage, they’re itchy and their eyes are swollen because they’ve been rubbing them all night long,” Hong says of allergy-sufferers. “So, I would recommend those keeping windows shut.”
Instead of popping the window open, you may opt for an air purifier. Greenberg suggests buying one with a high-efficiency particulate absorbing filter, otherwise known as a HEPA filter. “It sucks air through a series of filters and spits it out more allergen-free,” he says.
Spring is also a great time to examine the intake filter on your air conditioning system. “I usually recommend during a high pollen period that people change or clean out that filter on a monthly basis,” says Greenberg.
Understand allergy medicine and sleep
Sometimes, despite your best efforts to avoid washing off and filtering out allergens, those tiny irritating particles still manage to sabotage your slumber. If this happens, allergy medication may be required to get the best rest. But with so many different options out there, which medications should you take at night?
Greenberg says there are both sedating and non-sedating antihistamines to consider. “The non-sedating ones are long-lasting. They’ll last for 24 hours,” he explains. “Diphenhydramine, which is probably the most commonly used antihistamine, can be very sedating. It’s better to take it at night than it is during the day, because if you get sleepy at night, so what?”
Another allergy remedy that’s safe to use in the evening is a sinus rinse. “That can actually be like taking a shower for your sinuses and getting rid of all of the pollen,” says Hong. Just make sure you follow the instructions carefully. “Use distilled or boiled water that’s been cooled so [you] don’t give [yourself] an infection,” adds Hong.
But doctors say there is one type of treatment you should steer clear of once the sun goes down. “The medication to avoid is an oral decongestant, which can keep you awake at night,” warns Ogden. And although decongestants can provide temporary relief from nasal congestion, Hong says certain patients should stay away from them all together. “They can actually raise your blood pressure, and for some people it can give them palpitations and tachycardia, or racing heart rate.”
If you’re still missing out on sleep and think it may be due to allergies, Ogden says it might be time to talk to your doctor. “Keep a mental diary and look for a pattern,” he says. “Then really the best thing is to see a board-certified allergist who can do testing in the office to identify your culprit allergens.”
Even if you’re one of the lucky ones who has yet to experience allergies, you may still want to keep this information in your back pocket. That’s because doctors say you can develop allergies at any point during your lifetime. “The immune system is a very complex system that is forever changing,” says Greenberg.
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