Allergies and Insomnia

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Allergies and InsomniaThere are many different types of allergies that cause various levels of discomfort and problems. Symptoms can vary from having a runny or stuffy nose, sore or scratchy throat, watery eyes, itchiness, rash and hives to stomach pain, cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, and having difficulty swallowing or even breathing (in the case of anaphylaxis). Lovely, huh? It’s no surprise that allergies can cause insomnia. Let’s take a closer look.

Food allergies
A food allergy can be a likely culprit to create sleep problems. Lactose intolerance from dairy products, wheat allergies or various other food allergies will make your body react with symptoms of itching, swelling, upset stomach and other types of discomfort. Of course, if you’re uncomfortable, it makes it extremely difficult to get to sleep.

Hay fever
Recent studies have shown a connection between hay fever and insomnia. In the US alone, some 50 million people suffer from allergies as a result of changing seasons.

Research indicates that hay fever victims suffer from insomnia twice as much as people without allergies. Experts say people with allergic rhinitis on average take a longer time to get to sleep and they wake up more easily during the night. They also have to take more naps during the day and they get tired more easily.

During springtime our immune systems work to repel tree pollen from oak, elm, ash, birch, hickory, maple, cypress, walnut…and the list goes on. As a result, you will sneeze, cough, drip and blow and wipe your nose until it’s red as a stop sign!

In summer, you can look forward to spores coming from weeds, grasses and outdoor mold.

Come fall, there’s ragweed, sagebrush, and thistle to clog your nose.

During winter, you figure you’ll be indoors most of the time, so no worries, right? Wrong! Welcome to dust mites, animal dander and indoor molds. Now, you can add colossal headaches to your nasal congestion!

NOTE: Be careful not to get fooled by symptoms that copy allergies as a result of taking certain medications for conditions like, high blood pressure, erectile dysfunction, or oral contraceptives. These medications can cause the same symptoms as airborne allergies.

When you acquire these wretched symptoms, it’s a result of an allergen triggering an inflammation of the mucous membrane lining the nasal passages. The lining swells and closes off the normal flow of oxygen into your lungs. So, you sneeze, cough and gasp for air which keeps you and anybody around you from getting to sleep.

Here are some invaluable tips to bring you relief and keep those nasty allergens at bay so you can sleep at night.

Make a plan. If home remedies aren’t working and you can’t figure out the source(s) of your allergies, go to the doctor. Your health care professional should be able to help you find out which allergens are affecting you and recommend avoidance measures and medication. If your regular doctor’s efforts prove ineffective, find an allergist who will run a series of blood and skin tests to expose the specific allergens.

Nasal irrigation. No, you’re not going to starts growing crops in your nose! When allergens, dust and mold get stuck in your nasal passages membrane, your nose becomes swollen and clogged and a nasty sinus congestion can develop. Nasal irrigation to the rescue! Buy a neti pot, plastic bulb syringe or squeeze bottle from your local drug store and follow the directions. Using warm water and 1/2 teaspoon of non-iodized salt or specially formulated packets that come with your product (and also can be purchased separately in boxes of 50 – 100), follow the procedure at least once a day. Wash the receptacle well after each use. NOTE: In general, ceramic can be better sanitized than plastic. Nasal irrigation may take some getting used to, but it is an effective solution for clearing out allergens and preventing painful sinus infections.

Saline nasal spray. This is another option for washing and providing relief to your suffering sinuses.

OTC decongestants. Avoid use of nasal vasoconstriction nose spays such as Afrin for more than 3 days, or you will become addicted – and then soon after develop a tolerance with even worse “rebound congestion” when you try to stop usage. Use OTC decongestants for an extended period at your own risk!

Prevent inflammation. If you’re going to use nasal decongestants, a much better choice is to get a prescription from your doctor for anti-inflammatory sprays like Flonase, Nasonex, Veramyst, and Nasacort.

Use newer antihistamines. New products like Claritin, Allegra, Zyrtec and Clarinex don’t cause dry mouth and sinuses, and foggy head. They also won’t interfere with sleep like these first generation older antihistamines: Benadryl Allergy, Nytol, Sominex, Vicks NyQuil, and Alka-Seltzer Plus Night-Time Cold Medicine.

Steam inhalation. Here’s an old school solution for clogged sinuses. Add herbs and essential oils to steaming water, throw a towel over your head to form a tent and then keeping your face a good eight inches from the water, breathe in for approximately ten minutes.

Hot wet towels. Or use a hot, wet washcloth placed over your nose and sinuses. It can bring blessed relief.

Shower with eucalyptus. Turn on the shower and fill the bathroom with steam. Sprinkle a few drops of oil of eucalyptus on your bath mitt or washcloth with unscented soap and wash your entire body. Make sure you keep it out of your eyes. The oil will clear your sinuses, and soothe and moisturize your throat. Also, keep pollen out of bedroom by showering before bed and using a dryer-dried towel and bedclothes.

Gimme shelter. Hot, dry windy weather can blow dust, pollen and mold in your windows, at work, in your car, anywhere! Stay indoors with windows closed when those conditions are present during allergy season. If you can, schedule your outdoor activities when it’s windless, cloudy or even raining – there’s less pollen in the air.

Check the pollen count. Go to and click on “patients and consumers,” then click on “pollen count” to check how heavy the pollen levels are in your area. Plan outdoor activities when the counts are low and indoor activities when the counts are high.

Close windows in the early morning. Prime time for pollen distribution is between 5-10am. Make sure your windows are closed at this time or better yet close the widows the night before.

Exercise after 10am. You’ll breathe better and get a better workout if you exercise after the 5-10am blast of pollen.

Schedule vacations during allergy season. How about skipping the allergy season altogether? Try vacationing in another part of the world while your allergens are blooming at home.

Hire a lawn person. Mowing the lawn and raking the leaves is just asking for trouble (pollens and molds). Hire a professional. ‘Nuff said.

Scald the wash and rinse well. To remove the 3 most common allergens from your sheets – dust mites, dog dander and tree pollen – use hot water and rinse one or more times.

Wash and wash again. Wash clothes and bedding weekly.

Use the dryer. Hanging laundry on a line allows a gazillion pollens and molds to collect on sheets, clothes and towels.

Reduce the load. To help reduce dust mites which are everywhere in every home and aggravate every allergy, vacuum rugs and blinds often. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter.

Double bag it. You’re more likely to make a clean sweep of dust mites if you double bag your vacuum.

Reduce humidity. Dust mites love moist areas. Use a dehumidifier to keep humidity below 50 percent. And don’t forget to run an exhaust fan in the bathroom when you shower and in the kitchen when you cook.

Install air-conditioning. If you can afford it, air-conditioning will keep pollen out of your home and keep the humidity low to discourage dust mites. If you can’t afford to AC your whole space, try a room-size window unit in your bedroom. Still out of your price range? Buy a HEPA filter and shape it to fit your bedroom window screen.

Change filters. Do it for both cooling and heating systems. Those filters will trap allergens, but they’ll get clogged unless they’re changed every three months. HEPA filters are a bit pricey but are clearly the most effective filters.

Relocate your pets. Don’t get excited, just from your bedroom. A lot of people are allergic to dog and cat dander without even being aware of it. They think their itchy nose and sneezing is due to something else. Play it on the safe side and let Rover and Simba sleep in their own bed a few rooms away from yours. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger!

Cover the mattress.  Especially cover the pillows. “Allergy-proof” mattress and pillow covers are not cheap, but they’re worth it. Zipping up the mattress and pillows in a mite-proofed cover assures that the little varmints can’t interfere with your sleep.

Buy leather. Okay, maybe it’s not PC, but leather doesn’t collect dust mites the way fabric covered furniture does. After leather, vinyl is your next best bet.

Leave your floors bare. Wall-to-wall carpet harbors dust mites, while hardwoods, tile and vinyl don’t. If you must, throw a couple rugs down but make sure you wash them every week.

Keep air fresh. Beware of common household pollutants, such as household cleaning products, cigarette smoke, perfume and aftershave.

Monitor bathroom, kitchen and basement. These three areas tend to be more humid than the rest of the home. To eliminate allergy-triggering mold, use a cleaning solution containing 5% bleach and a small amount of detergent. Ditch the moldy wallpaper or carpeting.

Following as many of these tips as you can will most assuredly help with your allergy and insomnia issues and place you on the path to getting that quality sleep you so richly deserve. Good luck and good sleep!

*Much of the information used in this article comes from the excellent book by Ellen Michaud and Julie Bain: Sleep to be Sexy, Smart and Slim: Get the Best Sleep of Your Life Tonight and Every Night

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How to go to Sleep – 48 Tips to Help Cure your Insomnia
Diet and Insomnia – Foods That Cause Insomnia
Diet and Insomnia – Foods to Help You Sleep
Alcohol and Insomnia
Acupressure for Insomnia – Getting to the point
The Benefits of Using Acupuncture for Insomnia
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Aromatherapy for Insomnia – It makes Scents
Hypnosis for Insomnia
Menopause and Insomnia
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Children and Insomnia
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