With allergy season approaching quickly, it’s time for a deep dive into smart coping strategies
Congestion, itching, sneezing, coughing. Welcome to the world of allergy symptoms – wreaking havoc with your sleep and interfering with your health. If this is first-hand knowledge to you, you’re not alone. More than 50 million American experience various types of allergy each year, according to the Asthma and Allergy Association. What’s more, allergies are the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. Not good.
How allergies spoil your sleep
As allergy specialist Dr. Marc Goldstein notes: “Allergy symptoms and sleep don’t always make the best of bunkmates.” If you’ve had interrupted sleep because of allergies you know just how true that is. “It can be very difficult to fall asleep when you are in constant discomfort,” he says. “Many symptoms of allergic reactions to pollen, dust spores, or animal dander can intensely affect the respiratory system making breathing a challenge. Relaxing or sleeping with congested nasal passages can be very difficult.”
Dr. Goldstein, chief of Allergy and Immunology at Pennsylvania Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania, points out that common allergy symptoms may be worsened while laying down to sleep. “Post-nasal drip irritates the back of the throat. Itchy eyes can be aggravated by even a mildly dusty pillowcase, which is a notorious shelter for pollen and any other particles your hair collects throughout the day.”
Along with messing with your sleep quality, allergy symptoms themselves can make you feel tired and drowsy – fighting what your body sees as harmful foreign entities can be draining. All this is a recipe for a miserable allergy season. And, adding insult to injury, many experts feel global warming is causing allergy season to begin sooner and end later each year.
Being sleep-deprived impacts your overall wellness, including your work life, relationships and how well you cope with stress. According to Dr. Goldstein, studies have shown allergies and drowsiness negatively can affect a person’s reflex time, their decisions and their motor skills. Sleepy drivers may lose control of their vehicles, making them more prone to accidents.
Antihistamines can help – but they can also hinder too
When allergy symptoms strike, you may be looking for relief to help you get a decent night of sleep through allergy season. Many people turn to antihistamines. While effective first-generation antihistamines can cause drowsiness (good news for falling asleep), but there may be residual effects, especially if you take a medication that works for 12 hours. If you take it at bedtime, you may wake up feeling groggy and tired as the medication continues to work.
Dr. Goldstein says that some people should look at some of the newer second and third generation antihistamines designed to reduce drowsiness while still treating allergy symptoms effectively. To choose the right treatment, he suggests taking into consideration when your symptoms are the worst. “Perhaps a first generation allergy antihistamine could offer relief at night, while a second generation, non-drowsy treatment is best for daytime relief,” he says. “The important thing is to look at the side effects of each medicine.”
A quick note of caution: Whichever treatment you choose, read the label and warnings first. Also, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about any possible drug interactions.
How to allergy-proof your bedroom for a better night’s sleep
While you may not be able to avoid all possible allergens in your home, you can take steps to reduce potential allergens in your bedroom – dust, pollen and pet dander, for example.
Consider investing in a good quality air purifier to remove allergens and allow you to breathe easier. Removing allergens in the air that can trigger an allergic reaction throughout the night is smart, preemptive medicine.
Also, take a close look at where allergens may be lurking. For allergy sufferers, hardwood and other types of flooring are better options than carpeting. They are more easily cleaned with a thorough weekly mopping. Drapes, too, can also be problematic since dust will collect in the folds and pleats. When the clocks move back or forward each year, take that as a cue to wash them.
Of course, paying attention to the bed itself is a good idea. If your mattress is more than seven or eight years old, you may want to consider replacing it. Bacteria and dust mites that have built up over time could disturb your breathing throughout the whole year. To keep your new mattress fresh and tidy, use a mattress cover or protector. And when you change your sheets – which should be weekly for allergy sufferers – take the opportunity to use one of your vacuum attachments to get rid of potential allergens that may have settled on your mattress.
Your pillow may be another problem area. Toss out any pillows that you’ve had for many years and replace them with brand spanking new ones, which you should get pillow protectors for as well. Launder your pillow cases weekly – and pillow covers during allergy season – to keep them in tip-top shape. If your pillows are the washable type, you can launder them as well. For non-washable versions, just put them in the dryer for 10 to 15 minutes on high to fluff them up and eliminate common allergens like dust and dust mites.
And as hard as it is, keep your pets off your bed. Instead offer them attractive, alternative sleeping places near you. Pet dander and hair can be irritants even if you don’t have allergies to them. You’ll breathe easier if you can ensure your bed is clean and debris-free.
Rest well & wake up ready to go!
Better sleep gives rise to better mornings, bringing your goals into focus and dreams within reach. Hungry for more sleep info? Dig into these posts:
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- Time for a night divorce? Why some couples are opting to sleep in separate beds