Spring is the favorite season for many people. Warm sunny weather, everything is getting green and starting to blossom, and you can enjoy the endless outdoor activities. For others, it is a period of watery eyes, congestion, runny nose, coughing, and sneezing.
It is estimated that between 20% and 40% in the United States have allergies or allergic rhinitis. This condition can be seasonal, triggered by pollen in the spring or the fall, and grass pollen and ragweed in the summer. There are also allergens that are around all year long, not just during the particular season, such as pet dander, dust mites, and mold.
The allergy symptoms produce discomfort and make it a lot harder for people suffering from them to relax and fall asleep. Unfortunately, you can never get entirely rid of allergies, but you can try your best to locate the source of your symptoms and to try to get rid of or minimize the presence of allergens in your surroundings.
What Causes Allergies?
Every day you get in touch with millions of outside particles and bacteria, but your immune system is doing its best to locate and destroy them to keep you safe. The immune system can sometimes react abruptly to otherwise harmless particles, causing allergies. Allergies are defined as a hypersensitivity immune system response when the outside particles get in touch with the mucous membranes of your mouth, nose, and eyes.
When the allergens first come in contact with your body, the immune cells destroy it but take the tiny particles with it to the lymph tissue. There, they distribute those particles to other immune cells that produce antibodies, in this case, immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE is the protein that fights the invasion of foreign particles, so next time the allergen comes in contact with your body, the IgE recognizes it and triggers the defensive response. IgE gets attached to masts cells that then release a lot of chemicals including histamines, making the capillaries in your body more permeable. That is allowing white blood cells to enter the capillaries and destroy the allergen. But, it’s also allowing water to escape, causing congestion, watery eyes and runny nose.
Don’t get mad at your body when the allergies occur; it is just trying to protect you.
Why Do Allergies Exist?
As much as allergies are annoying to us today, scientists say that they played a significant role in helping our ancestors survive. Back in the day, hunter-gatherers were exposed to different pollen-like substances such as different venoms and parasites, and having an alarming reaction would signal them to leave the area. The severe reaction made sure that they went from that dangerous place.
Are allergies genetic?
There is no doubt that genetics play a huge role when it comes to allergies. If one of your parents experience allergies, there is a good chance that you’ll suffer from them too; and the probability increases if both of your parents are prone to them.
The newer studies show that besides genetics, the environment can play a huge role in developing allergies. The Hygiene Hypothesis is well supported and states that exposing your kids to a lot of allergens and germs early in life could help the develop fewer allergies later. Living in a cleaner environment and not getting in contact with allergens and bacteria can make our immune system a “little rusty,” so don’t worry if your kids like to play in the dirt, it can benefit them in the long run.
How Do Allergies Affect Sleep?
Studies have shown that as much as 48% of people with seasonal allergies, and 68% of people with chronic allergic rhinitis (AR) have reported some troubles with sleep. Whether it was challenging to fall asleep or to stay asleep during the night, the quality was affected by the allergy symptoms.
The patients with AR are more likely to suffer from chronic sleep deprivation and insomnia. The nasal congestion also increases the risk for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and snoring.
A direct link exists between allergies and quality of sleep, and the more severe the symptoms are, the worse your nightly slumber will be.
Sleep deprivation is a big problem among the people, and as much as 25% report that they are not getting enough sleep regularly. But, as much as two-thirds of allergy-sufferers say that they are not getting sufficient sleep. As a result, they don’t feel well-rested when they wake up in the morning, which affects their daytime functioning, worsens their mood and quality of life in general. Chronic sleep deprivation also affects your immune system, making you prone to a lot of different diseases. And what is worse, is that your body won’t get the needed rest, it won’t restore and repair appropriately because of the lack of sleep, so you’ll be less ready to fight off your allergy symptoms the following day.
Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep-related breathing disorder, where the airways are fully or partially blocked, so the oxygen can not reach the lungs, which leads to the lower oxygen level in your blood. OSA can be caused by the instruction of airways by nasal congestion, relaxations of muscles or tissues of the upper airflow, or some other problem. It is clear how nasal congestion from allergies can increase the risk of OSA. If you suspect that your snoring is a sign of sleep apnea, you should consult a doctor. They will run different tests and determine if you suffer from obstructive sleep apnea. If you are, continuous positive air pressure or CPAP therapy is an effective treatment. You’ll wear a face mask while asleep, hooked up to a CPAP machine that will prevent your airways to close while you are sleeping.
How To Sleep Better When You Are Suffering From Allergies?
There are some things you can do to help you relieve your symptoms and enjoy a good night’s sleep without any interruptions. The main thing is to try your best to eliminate all the triggers from your bedroom. Here are some tips:
One of the common allergen, dust mites, are found in pretty much every house. They feed off your dead skin cells, so the perfect environment for them is your carpet, mattress, pillows, and bedding. Be sure to vacuum regularly to get rid of them. And don’t just do the floors, make sure you get a had vacuum and do the furniture also. That way, you won’t only get rid of dust mites, but of other allergens such as pollen and pet dander.
Clean your bedding and mattress often
Be sure to clean your mattress regularly. Also, you should wash your bedding every week using the hot cycle, and dry them using a warm setting as well.
A 2007 study found that washing your laundry in warm water will only a bit more than 6% of dust mites, while hot water kills all of them. Hot water was much more efficient in removing pet dander and pollen as well.
If you don’t want to use the hot setting, the study authors propose a method that showed to be almost as effective. Washing your clothes in the warm water and then rinsing them two times with cold water for three minutes proved to be a great alternative.
Clean your house air
Make sure to regularly clean and change the filters on your central AC in the house. That will prevent it from sucking in dust and allergens and recycling them. You can also consider getting a portable air purifier with a HEPA filter to improve the air quality in your bedroom.
Shut your windows
Opening up your windows can let a lot of pollen inside your house and worsens your allergy symptoms. Instead, keep the windows closed, and use the air conditioning to keep your home fresh. Opening them can be pretty tempting during the warm summer nights, but getting the right pillow and bedding can help you cool down and regulate your body temperature better during the night.
If you use covering for your windows, consider using lighter washable curtains instead of heavy materials that attract dust and are harder to clean.
Watch your bedroom humidity
A humid environment is just perfect for one of the most common allergens, the mold.
If you use a humidifier, be sure to a clean it regularly and replace the water. And be sure not to overuse it, as that creates perfect conditions for mold to grow. Turning on your bathroom fan while showering and bathing can help to prevent moisture from sticking around. Also, consider using a dehumidifier in your bedroom to help remove the excess moisture.
Keep your pets away from the bedroom
Pet dander is a common allergen, but people can also be allergic to fur, and pet’s saliva and urine. Even if you are not allergic to pets specifically they can carry and transmit outside allergens into your bedroom. Make sure to wipe their paws after walks and time spent outside, and bathe and brush them every week.
Keeping your pets away from the bedroom doesn’t mean doing so only during the night. You won’t accomplish anything if they are in there the whole day, leaving pet dander everywhere, so consider making your bedroom a completely pet-free zone.
Take a shower before going to bed
A shower before bed will wash away all the pollen and allergens from your hair, as well as dead skin cells. Warm water will also help you relax and fall asleep easier, so taking an evening shower can be beneficial in many ways. Also, don’t forget to wear clean pajamas, and leave the clothes you wore outdoor outside of your bedroom.
Open up your nose
Saline nasal flushes can help immediately relieve the symptoms, but the effects may not last long. The way this works is you pour the saline solution in one nostril, and let it drain out from the other.
The other therapies for your congestion can be steroid nasal sprays and decongestants. They can help your immune system from overreacting, and help with your runny nose and other symptoms. But be aware that some medications can make you drowsy such as some antihistamines, so make sure to use them in the evening. Others, such as pseudoephedrine, can keep you awake, so using them in the morning would be better. Keep in mind that they are not recommended to use for a more extended period and that it is best to consult your doctor for the optimal therapy.
Choose a hypoallergenic mattress and bedding
The term hypoallergenic doesn’t mean that the product will eliminate allergens, just that it is tightly woven and that it will prevent allergens from invading them. Consider using mattress and pillow covers to make the infestation even less likely.
The best mattresses for people who suffer from allergies are made of memory foam or latex. Memory foam ones are great at keeping dust mites off, and giving excellent support, but they are not recommended for people who tend to sleep hot. Latex mattresses are more breathable and excellent at keeping dust mites, mold and mildew away, but they can be a problem to the people with latex allergy.
You should look for bedding and pillows made from natural materials. Latex can be an excellent alternative to natural pillows, and it is much more affordable. When searching for sheets, buy the ones made of bamboo, cotton, silk or wool, as they are naturally hypoallergenic, breathable, soft and very comfortable for sleep.
Lastly, be sure to maintain proper sleep hygiene as it will help your body rest properly and prepare to fight allergies the following day. Stick with the regular sleeping schedule and aim to get at least 7 hours of sleep. Stay hydrated and avoid drinking alcohol before bed as it can make your symptoms worse. Make sure to check with your physician about the best allergy treatment, and follow the advice.
Dusan is a biologist, a science enthusiast and a huge nature lover. He loves to keep up to date with all the new research and write accurate science-based articles. When he’s not writing or reading, you can find him in the kitchen, trying out new delicious recipes; out in the wild, enjoying the nature or sleeping in his bed.