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Allergies and Sleep Disorders: How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep Despite Your Allergies

Allergies and sleep disorders: How are they connected?

Every spring, allergy season is upon us once again. With that in mind, the blog turns its attention to the topic of sleep disorders and allergies. In general, allergic reactions are thought to interfere with normal, healthy sleep.

The logic goes like this: Allergies create nasal congestion. Nasal congestion can dry out your mouth, or block your breathing airways. Both of these factors can lead to “disorderss” – the stops in breathing overnight that characterize obstructive sleep disorders (OSA). Therefore, allergies and sleep disorders can be connected if ongoing allergic reactions are blocking your sleep on a regular basis.

Allergies can have other effects on our ability to get a good night’s sleep, too. Some allergic reactions swell the tonsils or adenoids, causing them to grow larger – again, potentially causing a blocked airway that can lead to sleep disorders.

So, while allergies may not specifically cause sleep disorders, there does seem to be a connection. As a study published in the American Review of Respiratory Disease stated, “in patients with allergic rhinitis, obstructive sleep disorders are longer and more frequent” than in patients without those allergic conditions.

It follows, then, that taking steps to reduce allergic reactions can help increase the quality of sleep: “Decreasing nasal congestion with nasal steroids may improve sleep, daytime fatigue, and the quality of life of patients with AR [allergic rhinitis],” as the authors of a 1998 study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology put it.

Allergies affect people differently depending on a variety of factors such as what you are allergic to, the geographic area where you live, and the time of year. For some people, dealing with seasonal allergies is common. In the United States, seasonal allergies are most common during the spring, summer, or early fall, in response to pollens or mold spores. In contrast, perennial allergies may be allergies related to dust mites. If your allergies seem to be persistent rather than being seasonal, then you might be allergic to dust mites or pet dander. These can lead to trouble staying asleep or falling asleep too.

Most researchers stop short of actually concluding that treating allergies can prevent sleep disorders, though. A 2011 study published in the European Archives of Oto-rhino-laryngology states that, while “nasal steroids could improve the subjective quality of sleep, and may be useful for patients with mild OSA,” such allergy treatments are “not by themselves an adequate treatment for most OSA patients.”If your allergies keep you up at night, you may be missing out on sleep. Without a good night’s sleep, you end up feeling tired and grumpy the next day. Being tired can impair your performance at school and work, negatively affecting your health and wellbeing. Poor sleep also heightens anxiety and stress response, which in turn, makes it harder to fall asleep. Allergies don’t just impact your ability to fall asleep; they also interfere with your ability to stay asleep. People with allergies may wake up due to a congested nose, sneezing or coughing fit in the middle of the night. Over time, this kind of allergy-induced sleep deprivation adds up, creating a vicious cycle that leads some to rely on sedatives or alcohol to help them fall or stay asleep — which is not a good idea.

Allergies can affect all aspects of sleep. Individuals with allergic rhinitis are significantly more likely to suffer from sleep issues, including:

  • Insomnia
  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Trouble staying asleep
  • Increased snoring
  • Increased risk for sleep disorders
  • Poor sleep efficiency
  • Short sleep

During the day, their problems don’t end. They’re more likely to have trouble waking up, experience daytime fatigue, and have morning headaches and sinus pain. There also appears to be a correlation between the severity of a person’s allergies and the severity of their sleep problems. In other words, the worse their allergy symptoms are, the worse their sleep is.

For some people with allergies, difficulty sleeping may develop into more serious sleep disturbances, such as bedwetting, insomnia, restless sleep, snoring, obstructive sleep disorders (OSA), and other forms of sleep-disordered breathing. The connection between allergies causing or worsening sleep disorders is of particular concern because we know that OSA can lead to difficulty losing weight, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and death.

Pediatric studies suggest that allergies increases the risk for obstructive sleep disorders among children. Children with sleep-disordered breathing are more than twice as likely to have allergic rhinitis than those who don’t have sleep disorders. Poor sleep can be especially damaging to children, leading to missed school days, behavioral problems, difficulty with memory, concentration and worsened IQ.

However, when discussing allergies and sleep disorders, another factor often comes into play: Allergic reactions can disrupt the CPAP therapy often used to treat sleep disorders. Manufacturers of CPAP masks and sleep disorders therapy equipment have taken steps to help you get around potential problems caused by the presence of both sleep disorders and allergies. For instance, if allergies make breathing through your nose difficult, you’re more likely to experience effective treatment from a full face mask than from a nasal pillows mask.

While a nasal mask only delivers air through your nose, a full face mask covers your mouth and nose, ensuring that you still receive air whether your nose is congested or not. In addition, advanced CPAP technology in the form of APAP – or automatic positive airway pressure, as we recently discussed – can help people who have both allergies and sleep disorders. How? Allergies can cause your breathing to fluctuate throughout the night, and APAP is designed to deliver different amounts of air as needed to keep up with those fluctuations. If your allergies are interfering with your sleep disorders therapy, we encourage you to talk to your doctor or sleep therapist about possible solutions, such as switching to a different CPAP mask, or a different type of PAP therapy machine.

Seasonal allergies can cause you to sneeze or have itchy nose, eyes, or throat, or a runny or stuffy nose or other symptoms. Dealing with allergy symptoms while you’re awake is challenging, and allergies can affect your night by making it hard to sleep. Allergy symptoms can lead to common sleep issues. Poor sleep, in turn, can lead to feeling fatigued during the day. But don’t lose hope; there are answers for all the allergy sufferers out there! We will dive into the particulars of allergies, how allergies can affect sleep quality, and ways to combat the symptoms so you can sleep, live, and feel better.

Here are some ideas to deal with allergies so you can get the sleep you need:

  • Try an air purifier. Using an air purifier at night has been shown to help sleep, both in people with allergies and people without allergies.
  • Keep doors and windows closed during pollen season. Some allergy sufferers benefit from keeping windows closed when pollen counts are high and using air conditioning at home and in the car.
  • Explore medication options with your doctor. It’s a good idea to schedule an appointment to figure out what kind of allergies you’re currently experiencing and what kind of treatment plan can give you the most relief.

Every allergy case is different, and often a combination of treatments and strategies will be needed. Therefore, you may need to go through some trial and error to learn what is best for you. Allergies can certainly impact your sleep, but if you stay proactive and reach out to your health care provider for help, you can start taking steps now to control your allergies and get the sleep that your body needs.