How Allergies Affect Your Sleep—And What You Can Do About It

It isn’t your imagination: seasonal allergies DO get worse every year. And if you are a seasonal allergy sufferer, you’re likely feeling congested and irritated right about now. This year’s pollen season is well underway and in addition to getting in the way of your ability to enjoy the great outdoors, it could also be interfering with your ability to get a good night of sleep. We’ve rounded up some information about how and why allergies are impacting your sleep, as well some tips to improve your rest even if you are finding yourself plagued by allergies this year.

Why and how do allergies effect our sleep? 

Nearly 40% of us suffer from allergic rhinitis (the fancy term for allergies) and every year more and more people are included in that figure, as the length and severity of the pollen seasons continue to increase. 

Allergies make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep. They can lead to snoring, sleep apnea and even insomnia as they cause irritation of the nose, eyes and throat, and inhibit your ability to breathe properly. As we know, breathing through the nose (and not the mouth) is crucial for a snore-free and healthy sleep—a blocked nasal passage is uncomfortable and forces mouth breathing. Having allergies is essentially like having a perpetual cold throughout the spring, including a congested and blocked nasal passage that can sometimes cause people to wake up sneezing throughout the night.

Why are allergies getting worse year over year? 

The short answer is climate change spurred by global warming. But more specifically, increased emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere stemming from burning fossil fuels has two main effects: 

  • As CO2 increases, plants actually grow larger and produce more flowers which ultimately spread more pollen.
  • CO2 traps heat, causing the planet to heat up and spurring an earlier spring. With spring beginning earlier, the pollen season kicks off sooner (and lasts longer).

What can you do to get better sleep even when allergies have you in a fog? 

Try an air purifier  

Make sure no other allergens are contributing to sleep disturbances by keeping your home as dust-free as possible and checking for other allergens like mold. An air purifier can aid in clearing your room of pollen as well as any other allergens that may be contributing to nasal congestion or irritation.

Keep your windows closed at night 

Despite the fact that this time of year is gorgeous and the air smells terrific, the winds of changing seasons carry pollen on them! Closing your windows at night can help keep pollen particles from hitching a ride on the spring breeze and settling into your home. 

Use medications to ease your symptoms 

From nasal sprays and decongestants to antihistamines, there are a variety of over-the-counter medications on the market to help soothe your symptoms. Follow the instructions carefully for whatever remedy you choose. Some allergy meds can keep you up at night, so be sure to choose nighttime meds or at least ones that will not contribute to insomnia.

Have “indoor” and “outdoor” clothes 

You may be inadvertently bringing the pollen home on your clothes. So, during the season, it may be helpful to change out of the clothes you hike or run errands in as soon as you get home, if you don’t already. You may also need to wash your clothes and your sheets a little bit more often during this time to curb the spread of pollen (and really any other bacteria from the outside world). 

Try a saline nasal flush

For temporary relief, you can use a Neti-pot. With this handy tool, you can pour saline solution into one nostril and out the other, flushing out all those allergens and clearing your nose up (at least for a little while). It might even feel kind of good? 

Take a shower right before bed

Showering or bathing before bed can already help relax your body and mind as part of your sleep routine. But during the allergy season, it’s also useful to try to remove any remaining pollen from your skin and avoid bringing it to bed with you.

Keep pets out of the bedroom 

This one is probably the best one to skip—especially if cuddling your pooch or kitty at night offers mental health benefits that outweigh the allergy symptoms it may cause. But, if you are having trouble determining the source of your allergy symptoms, you could very well be allergic to your pet. It’s not always the fur that can cause allergic reactions either, sometimes it’s your pet’s dander that does you in. It’s something to consider!

Talk to your doctor

If over-the-counter remedies do not offer the relief you’re looking for or if you’re not sure if you are suffering from allergies or from COVID-19 symptoms, it’s worth it to get a professional involved. Contact your doctor if your symptoms are getting in the way of your ability to function. And, if you have any concerns that you might have COVID-19, consider getting tested and most importantly, stay home!

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