If you’ve got seasonal allergies, you’re probably painfully aware we’re smack-dab in the middle of allergy season. Depending on where you live, it might not wrap up until as late as October. If you’re anything like most allergy sufferers, you could already be going on months of less-than-great sleep thanks to nasal congestion, itchy eyes and a scratchy throat.
Unfortunately, a lack of sleep can seriously mess with your efforts to live a healthy lifestyle. Disrupted sleep affects our circadian rhythm, explains Dr. Omid Mehdizadeh, an ENT and laryngologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center. “This can alter our metabolism and hormone balance, and affect our appetite and hunger levels, making it more difficult to stay healthy or lose weight,” he explains. “Additionally, poor sleep over time can increase our blood pressure and alter our glucose or serum sugar levels.”
Of course, taking antihistamines and consulting your doctor are smart steps to take if your allergies are robbing you of those precious hours of shuteye. But if you’re looking for other avenues to try, here are suggestions straight from the experts:
If your allergies are seasonal, it’s likely something outside your house is causing them. If you exercise outside, you might be increasing your exposure. “Exercising indoors can help reduce your exposure to pollen,” explains Jane Wrigglesworth, a sleep consultant. But if you choose to get your sweat on in the great outdoors, wear a hat to keep pollen off your hair, she suggests. “If you wear gel or other products in your hair, you might be surprised to learn just how much pollen accumulates there,” she adds. Post-workout, remove your clothing in the bathroom instead of in your bedroom, and be sure to shower ASAP to avoid introducing more allergens into the space where you sleep.
“House dust mites are a common allergen that we are exposed to at night,” Wrigglesworth says. “Millions of these microscopic critters hide out in our mattresses, pillows and bedding. They feed mainly on the flakes of dead skin that our bodies constantly shed.” It’s actually not the mites themselves that cause allergic reactions, but a particular protein in their droppings and exoskeletons, which they also shed as they grow. “Even if you manage to kill dust mites, the droppings and exoskeletons that remain behind will continue to exacerbate your allergies,” She adds.
According to research from Ohio State University, a mattress may house anywhere between 100,000–10 million dust mites over its lifetime, and 10% of the weight of a 2-year-old pillow is likely to be made up of dead dust mites and their droppings. “If your bedding is old, you are literally laying your head down on a bed full of allergens,” Wrigglesworth says.
While dust mites aren’t necessarily seasonal allergens, they thrive in a moist environment, which is more likely in the summer.
So what can you do? “Purchase washable dust mite pillow and mattress protectors and wash your bedding weekly in hot water,” Wrigglesworth suggests. “To kill off dust mites, pillows can be put into a sealed plastic bag and placed in the freezer for 48 hours.”
“Invest in a HEPA air purifier and a dehumidifier,” Wrigglesworth recommends. “The air purifier removes microscopic particles from the air, including dust, pollen, pet dander, mold and other allergens.” A dehumidifier keeps your bedroom dry, which is important since, in addition to dust mites, mold and mildew also thrive in moist conditions. While it might be tempting to sleep with the windows open when the weather is nice, doing so makes this strategy less effective.
One way to avoid inhaling allergens is to flush them out. “Doing nasal rinses with distilled water and a salt mixture at night can clean out any offending allergens and allow for a better night’s sleep,” says Dr. Payam Daneshrad, an ENT. Heads up: It’s important not to use tap water that hasn’t been boiled for a nasal rinse since it’s not adequately treated for this use, so make sure the fluid you use is properly sanitized.
As sad as it may be to kick your beloved pet out of bed, Dr. Daneshrad recommends keeping animals out of the bedroom. Even if you’re not allergic to your pet, since they likely spend time outside, they can carry allergens like pollen into your bed. If you want to make your bedroom an allergen-free zone to get a better night’s sleep, that sadly means your pet has to go (to the living room).