Why Are Allergies Worse At Night?
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When you rest your head on your pillow and nestle into your covers for the night, your journey to dreamland isn’t always smooth. A sudden urge to sneeze, itchy eyes, or a random coughing fit don’t offer the best environment to drift off to sleep. But nighttime allergies can cause this scenario and others like it, leading man to wonder: Why are allergies worse at night? In this article, we’ll look at what might be making your allergies worse at night and what you can do to get them under control.
Note: The content on Sleepopolis is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t be taken as medical advice, and it shouldn’t take the place of medical advice and supervision from a trained professional. If you feel you may be suffering from any sleep disorder or medical condition, please see your healthcare provider immediately.
Why Are My Allergies Worse at Night?
You may feel like you should be protected against allergies in the safety of your bedroom, but unfortunately, the opposite can be true. “Allergies are often most symptomatic at night, and that is because our bedrooms, with all of their soft fluffy bedding and knickknacks, tend to be the dustiest areas,” Dr. June Seliber-Klein, MD, neurology and sleep board-certified physician based in Monterey, CA, tells Sleepopolis.
But dust isn’t the only culprit. Other factors like body position, pollen, and pet dander can cause problems, too.
“Some allergen levels can be higher at night, depending on the type,” Dr. Chester Wu, MD, sleep medicine physician in Houston, TX tells Sleepopolis. “For example, pollen counts are often higher in the early morning and in the early evening.”
Allergens like pollen can still get into your house even with windows closed, although those barriers do help minimize pollen exposure. “Your bedroom is also, and very unfortunately, a breeding ground for indoor allergens, such as dust mites, mold, and pet dander. These allergens can be stirred up when you move around in bed, which can make your allergies worse,” says Wu.
When you lie flat, gravity can work against you, Wu explains. When your head rests flat on its pillow, gravity pulls mucus drainage down into your throat from your sinuses, which can make breathing more difficult. Your nasal passages can also swell more than when you’re standing up, says Seliber-Klein.
Additionally, your breathing slows down and your airways get narrower when you sleep, says Wu. “This can make it harder to breathe if you have allergies, and can also make you more likely to develop sleep apnea.” (1)
Which Allergies Bother Me at Night?
Several allergies can cause trouble at night. “The allergens that are most bothersome and can disrupt our sleep include mold, pet dander, and dust mites,” says Seliber-Klein.
Mold is a fungus. It’s a little different from the mushrooms you know and love, but like other fungi, mold generates spores that float around the air. This mode of transport makes it easy for these spores to get into your mouth, eyes, and nose, causing irritation. (2) “Additionally, many bedrooms now have attached bathrooms, and the increased humidity from showering can create a habitat more hospitable to mold, to which some people are allergic,” Seliber-Klein says.
If you have even a mild allergy to pet dander, you may feel your symptoms a bit stronger at night — and Seliber-Klien says pets don’t need to be sleeping in your bed to spread dander. Pet dander can build up in your bedroom dust and cause allergy flare-ups when you climb in bed to sleep. (3)
Dust mites are microscopic bug-like pests that live all around us. “Dust mites accumulate in our bedding as they feed on skin cells left behind,” says Seliber-Klein. They love humidity, which can be higher at night in some areas, meaning your bedding may offer a utopian habitat for this allergen, says Wu.
Pollen counts are often highest in the morning, says Wu. “But pollen can become problematic if it’s brought inside on your clothing or pets and then distributed in the air within your home.” Sleeping with your windows open can also let more pollen into your bedroom, leading to allergy symptoms.
Some locations around the world produce more common allergens than others. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) crowns “allergy capitals” every year based on several factors like allergen levels and the availability of allergy healthcare specialists. In 2023, Wichita, Kansas won the capital crown. (4)
Ragweed, a prevalent allergy culprit, grows all over the U.S., but especially in the Eastern and Midwestern states. Even though each ragweed plant only lives for one season, each one can put out one billion grains of pollen. (5) Not everyone reacts the same to all allergens, so one person’s allergy may not bother another.
For many, spring allergies can start as early as February and keep on keepin’ on through the beginning of summer. Others may feel the worst symptoms in the fall, with ragweed allergies and smoke from campfires or leaf-burning. (6) As the seasons change, you may find you need to adjust your sleep environment for temperature and humidity.
You can check the National Allergy Bureau for up-to-date pollen and mold counts.
Symptoms of Nighttime Allergies
Your allergy symptoms probably look a little different than those felt by your friend, mom, husband, or neighbor. Your genetics largely determine what causes symptoms, and how your body reacts to allergens. (7) However, some common nighttime allergy signs include (8):
- Itchy eyes
- Itchy throat
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
Sometimes nighttime allergies can also trigger asthma symptoms like difficulty breathing and wheezing. (9) When you cope with allergies at night, your sleep quality can suffer, possibly leading to daytime symptoms like sleep inertia, daytime sleepiness, and morning headaches. (8)
How to Sleep Better with Allergies
Ready for some good news? You can take steps to manage your nighttime allergies and even prevent them from coming on at all.
Ask About Medication
You know you’re not alone on the allergy struggle bus when you walk through your local pharmacy. Shelves of medications offer relief from even the most annoying symptoms.
While the plethora of options is great, it can also feel overwhelming. You can talk over your symptoms with your healthcare provider to discover which over-the-counter medication might work best for you.
- Dustproof your mattress and pillow with hypoallergenic covers.
- Try an air purifier with a HEPA filter in the bedroom.
- Wash your bedding in hot water once a week.
- Vacuum and dust frequently.
You can also choose from several brands of hypoallergenic mattresses to keep the dust mites away.
Adjust Sleep Habits
Your sleep habits can help boost or squash your allergy symptoms, says Wu, who offers these suggestions to combat your allergies:
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed.
- Elevate your head with an extra pillow.
- Sleep in a cool, dry room.
- Sleep with the windows closed.
Wu also recommends showering before bed. “This can help remove any pollen or other allergens that are on your skin or hair, and a warm shower before bed can otherwise help with sleep,” he says.
If you keep the allergens away, they can’t make you miserable. Here’s how you can keep them at bay: (11)
- Keep your pets out of your bedroom.
- Remove clothes worn outside and throw them in the wash.
- Stay indoors when pollen counts are high.
- Wash or change your pajamas frequently.
Allergies and Sleep Apnea
If you have sleep apnea, your breathing pauses frequently while you snooze. “Allergies can make sleep apnea worse by narrowing your airways and making it harder to breathe,” says Wu. “This can lead to more frequent and longer pauses in breathing, which can disrupt your sleep.” (12)
Allergies can also worsen sleep apnea by causing inflammation and swelling in your airways, says Seliber-Klein. “This may result in increased snoring and snore-related arousal, disrupting your sleep. The swelling can also increase sleep apnea events due to a greater chance of airway obstruction when it is swollen,” she says.
When to See a Doctor
If allergic symptoms upset your sleep for more than a few nights in a row, it may be time to let your healthcare provider know. “[Your provider] can help you to identify your allergens and develop a treatment plan that is right for you,” says Wu. If you feel you might have asthma or sleep apnea symptoms associated with your nighttime allergies, it’s even more important to speak with your provider.
What are the signs of dust mites in bed?
Dust mites are microscopic, so the only way to know if they’ve set up camp in your bedding is through your symptoms: (13)
- Itchy eyes
- Itchy throat
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
Can seasonal allergies keep you up at night?
Seasonal allergies can keep you up at night if the symptoms become severe enough to keep you from falling asleep, or if they wake you from sleep. They can also keep you up if they aggravate other conditions like asthma or sleep apnea. (12)
What plants release pollen at night?
Pollen from trees, grass, and ragweed love coming out at night, especially if the nights are cool. Other allergens tend to pop up in the morning or during the day. (6)
The Last Word From Sleepopolis
Trying to sleep with allergies can feel almost impossible. The symptoms provide plenty of discomfort, but can also disrupt your slumber and lead to sleep deprivation. (8) If your allergies aggravate your asthma or sleep apnea, they need to be addressed. Remember, you do have the power to push away your nighttime allergies! If you’re not sure what to do next, ask a healthcare provider, and they’ll help get you on the path toward a better night’s rest.
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- Mold Allergy – Symptoms, Prevention, and Treatment | AAFA.org. Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America. Accessed August 9, 2023. https://aafa.org/allergies/types-of-allergies/mold-allergy/
- Association AL. Pet Dander | American Lung Association. Home | American Lung Association. Accessed August 9, 2023. https://www.lung.org/clean-air/at-home/indoor-air-pollutants/pet-dander
- How the Top 100 U.S. Cities Rank for Seasonal Pollen Allergies. Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America. Accessed August 9, 2023. https://aafa.org/asthma-allergy-research/allergy-capitals/
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- Xi Y, Deng Y-Q, Chen S-M, et al. Allergy-related outcomes and sleep-related disorders in adults: a cross-sectional study based on NHANES 2005–2006. Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology. 2022;(1). doi:10.1186/s13223-022-00669-z
- Romano MR, James S, Farrington E, Perry R, Elliott L. The impact of perennial allergic rhinitis with/without allergic asthma on sleep, work and activity level. Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology. 2019;(1). doi:10.1186/s13223-019-0391-9
- Aggarwal P. Dust Mite Allergy – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Accessed August 9, 2023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560718/
- Pollen. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Accessed August 9, 2023. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/allergens/pollen/index.cfm#
- Sianturi M, Marliyawati D, Yusmawan W, Yunika K. The Correlation of Allergic Rhinitis with Obstructive Sleep Apnea Syndrome (OSAS) in Young Adults. Diponegoro International Medical Journal. 2020;(1):21-25. doi:10.14710/dimj.v1i1.7930
- Dust Mite Allergy | AAFA.org. Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America. Accessed August 9, 2023. https://aafa.org/allergies/types-of-allergies/insect-allergy/dust-mite-allergy/
- Wu, Chester, MD. Personal interview. July 31, 2023
- Seliber-Klein, June, MD. Personal Interview. August 1, 2023.