Living With Allergies

How to Get Good Sleep (Without Your Allergies Getting in the Way)

Overhead photo of a bed with a book nestled in the sheets.
Photo by Allie Lehman via Death to Stock

Waking up every few minutes—or not being able to fall asleep at all—is no way to spend the night. But unfortunately, allergies can lead to just that. Symptoms like congestion, coughing, and sneezing often make it impossible to get a good night’s sleep, and we all know how missing out on sleep can throw off your whole day.

If your symptoms are keeping you from reaching your ideal number of Z’s at night, we have some tips on how to sleep through the night.

First, though, let’s talk about what causes them and why sleeping with allergies can be such a nightmare.

What causes allergies at night?

Sleep can be ruined by just about any kind of allergy, but those caused by airborne irritants are the most likely to keep you up at night. Here are a few examples:

  • Cockroaches: Even if you don’t see them, they leave behind microscopic bits (gross, we know).
  • Dust mites: These little bugs are too tiny to be seen without a microscope and are so named because they live in house dust.
  • Mold: It might seem like mold sticks only to surfaces like roofs or bathroom floors, but mold spores move through the air, making themselves easily inhaled.
  • Pet dander: Believe it or not, pet fur itself isn’t actually an allergen—it’s the dander (or dead skin cells) that gets trapped in the fur and ends up everywhere the pet goes.
  • Pollen: You might think a pollen allergy means you just have to stay indoors, but assuming that’s not possible (or good for you!), it means you’re probably bringing pollen home in your hair and then laying on your pillow at night..

How do allergies affect sleep?

Unlike you, allergies don’t need to sleep. Depending on what you’re allergic to, they can affect you all day, every day. If you have seasonal allergies, you’ll get a break in the off-seasons, but allergies to things like dust or pet dander can be a problem all year round.

This means when you settle in for the night, you could be faced with symptoms like itchy eyes and a runny nose, plus the congestion, coughing, and sneezing we mentioned earlier.

Why are my allergies worse at night?

To an extent, it’s psychological. During the day, you’re busy with things like school or work, so it’s easier to keep your mind off your allergy symptoms. When you’re trying to sleep, though, you’re literally just lying there without anything to distract you from how unwell you’re feeling.

But, depending on your symptoms, there’s an anatomical side to it, too. If you experience congestion, lying down can make it worse, because once you climb into bed, gravity starts working against you. Whatever fluids or mucus is in your nose starts dripping down your throat, which in turn can lead to or exacerbate coughing and breathing issues.

You’re also presumably spending your nights in your bedroom, and bedrooms tend to be hotbeds (no pun intended) for airborne allergens. These rooms tend to be home to the most allergens (like dust mites, which live in your bedding), pet dander, pollen, and mold (because many bedrooms are close to bathrooms).

How to sleep better with allergies

There’s no one right way to combat allergens in the home, but here are a few things to try if you find your sleep interrupted by allergy symptoms:

Use an air purifier or HEPA filter in the bedroom

An air purifier will help keep dust and other pollutants out of the air (and your respiratory system).

Keep the bedroom pest-free

If you suspect you might have a cockroach allergy, place traps around the bedroom (and the rest of your home) and be sure to clear them frequently.

Keep the bedroom pet-free

We know this can be a tricky task, because some pets simply refuse to stay out of certain areas, but their dander and saliva can aggravate your symptoms. If you can’t keep them out of your bedroom, at least try to keep them off your bed.

Clean your bedroom often

Unless you’re obsessed with cleaning, this will likely feel like a very tedious chore, but your future self will thank you. Vacuuming and wiping down surfaces on a regular basis will keep the amount of dust in the room to a minimum. (This is especially important if you’re unable to keep your pets out of the area.) Dedicate one day a month to doing a deep clean of the room.

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Ditch the carpeting altogether

Carpets are notorious for housing dust mites, so if you can, get rid of them and stick to hard floors or rugs that you can clean more easily.

Wash your bedding frequently

You should already be washing your sheets and pillowcases about once a week, but if your allergy symptoms are disrupting your sleep, try washing your blankets once a week as well. Because comforters and duvet covers sit on top of your bed, they’re going to be landing spots for whatever dust and other irritants are in the air.

Try hypoallergenic bedding

Invest in bedding designed to keep dust mites away, like memory foam and latex mattresses, covers for your mattress and box spring, microfiber comforters, percale or sateen bed sheets, and satin pillowcases. (As a bonus, satin pillowcases are great for your hair and skin!)

Shower before you go to sleep

Pollen and other airborne allergens can easily stick to your skin, hair, and clothing, so make sure you rinse off and put on fresh pajamas before climbing into bed.

Sleep with the windows closed

If pollen is to blame for your allergy symptoms, keeping your windows closed at night will help keep it out of your home.

Pay attention to which plants you keep in your bedroom

Not all houseplants are the same—some are great for people with allergies, and others…not so much (not to mention they all collect dust). Snake plants, in particular, are ideal for the bedroom, because they convert carbon dioxide to oxygen at night.

Have your home inspected for mold

If you have a mold allergy (or think you might), have your home tested and treated if needed.

Add some extra pillows

Since lying down can potentially worsen congestion and lead to post-nasal drip, propping yourself up into a partially upright position is one of the best positions to sleep with allergies.

Find the right allergy treatment plan

Sometimes medication is needed to fight allergy symptoms. If you try all of the above tips and still find yourself having trouble sleeping because of your allergies, talk to a doctor about a potential treatment plan, or check out what Picnic has to offer.

There are a lot of different ways to soothe night allergy symptoms, and whether it comes down to making some lifestyle changes—like cleaning more often—or using an allergy medication—like a nasal spray or antihistamine—it’s just a matter of figuring out what works best for you so you can get back to counting sheep without interruption.

ARTICLE REVIEWED BYAmina H. Abdeldaim, MD MPHPicnic Medical Director
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