May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month and for good reason. As the pollen begins to paint everything yellow, remember that you are not alone. According to a study by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation, almost 60% of individuals with nasal allergies reported difficulty sleeping due to their allergy symptoms.
Why are allergies so disruptive?
The obvious answer is that the itching and inflammation are uncomfortable. However, the mucous buildup and swelling can significantly narrow nasal passages, and when your airway relaxes during sleep, the additional mucous and inflammation may make it difficult to comfortably breathe. This can lead to waking up multiple times at night and possibly worsen medical conditions like sleep apnea.
In addition, when your body senses trouble in the airway, it may respond by coughing, sneezing, or swallowing, all actions that can wake you from a good nights sleep.
What exactly causes environmental allergies?
You can thank your immune system. The role of the immune system is to protect us from viruses, bacteria, and other harmful organisms.
For some people, the immune system identifies environmental triggers as “harmful” and begins to attack when they enter our bodies. The result of this immune response is inflammation and mucous production, which is your body’s way of protecting you against what it inaccurately perceives as harmful. The result of this “protection” is often allergy symptoms like nasal congestion, cough, and itchy eyes.
How do allergies can mess with your sleep?
It’s no secret that the most refreshing sleep comes when your body is completely comfortable. Thankfully most of the elements that lead to sleep comfort are in our control – lack of noise, comfortable temperature, minimal light exposure, etc.
Unfortunately, for those that suffer from allergies, sleeping comfortably may seem out of reach. A night of congestion and cough can easily disrupt an otherwise perfect nights sleep, leading to grogginess and fatigue the next day.
What can you do about allergies?
- The most important intervention is trying to avoid exposure to the allergen. Keeping windows closed, regularly vacuuming, taking nighttime showers, and keeping your pets out of the bedroom are all ways to limit your exposure to the offending agent.
- Using protective, hypo-allergenic covers for mattresses and pillows can keep the allergens locked up. You can always ask a Mattress Firm employee for details on those products and others.
- Washing linens in hot water is vital for eliminating allergens. For those that suffer from dust mite or mold allergy, humidity is important. Consider buying a hygrometer from the local pharmacy to ensure your bedroom’s humidity is between 40-50%. Dehumidifiers may help if your humidity is too high.
- Most importantly, seek help. Studies find that despite suffering through allergy season, only a fraction actually seek medical help. Testing for environmental allergens can be done through simple blood or skin tests. There are also a variety of medication options available, such as nasal steroid sprays and antihistamines. Ask your doctor about them and avoid the temptation to self-treat if your allergies are severe.
Protect your environment from allergens and you’ll be protecting your sleep as well.
About The Author
Sujay Kansagra, MD is the director of Duke University’s Pediatric Neurology Sleep Medicine Program and author of the book “My Child Won’t Sleep.” Dr. Kansagra offers Daily Doze readers tips and insight about the importance of sleep, especially for kids who need plenty of rest to grow and develop. Dr. Kansagra graduated from Duke University School of Medicine, where he also completed training as a pediatric neurologist. He did his fellowship in sleep medicine at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, before joining the faculty at Duke as an assistant professor. He specializes in treating a variety of sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy and parasomnias. He shares advice on sleep, medicine, and education through his Twitter accounts @PedsSleepDoc and @Medschooladvice. When he’s not busy at work or on social media, Dr. Kansagra enjoys spending time with his wife and two sons. And yes, they are both great sleepers.
Best Night’s Sleep: Not just a sleep expert, but also an expert sleeper, Dr. Kansagra can sleep almost anywhere, thanks to years of sleep deprivation during medical school and residency call nights. But his best sleep is at home with his family, on a mattress he purchased at Mattress Firm long before he joined our team.