Why spring is not such a great time of year for sleep and what you can do about it PART DEUX.

2 June, 2011

In my last post, we celebrated the coming of spring, but also reminded ourselves about how increased daylight hours can prevent us from getting enough sleep.

Today, we look at another hazard associated with the time of year.  ‘Tis the season for allergies.  Symptoms can include:

  • sneezing
  • itchy and streaming eyes
  • itching skin
  • runny nose
  • nasal congestion
  • and breathing problems.

 

According to an article published in the Archives of Internal Medicine magazine, if you suffer from allergies, you are more likely to suffer disrupted sleep.  The 2006 study conducted in France amongst patients suffering from sleep problems found that:

  • 36% of people with allergies claimed they had insomnia vs. 16% of people without allergies
  • 42% of allergy suffers had trouble falling asleep vs. 18% of people without allergies
  • 63% with allergies complained about not getting enough sleep vs. 25% without allergies

 

Causes of environmental allergies:

  1. Grass seeds, pollen and moulds are thick in the air.  We breath them in with life giving Oxygen, but for up to a third of the population, the result is an allergic reaction, causing
  2. As the weather gets warmer, many people spend more time outside and are in more frequent contact with animals.  But animal dander can also cause allergic reactions for some people.  Oil glands in animals’ skin secrete proteins which can cause allergic reactions.
  3. House dust mites, tiny mites that live in the dust in even the cleanest home, can be another culprit.  The mites feed on dead skin cells, pollen, bacteria and fungi.  So springtime is a season in which they thrive.

Needless to say, if we suffer from allergies, our sleep is affected.  Having trouble breathing is not going to help you sleep, particularly if you are a light sleeper anyway.

People with upper respiratory disorders have greater difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep, and they are likely to feel more tired during the day and less able to concentrate.

17 Things that you can do to reduce your allergies and improve your sleep:

1. Consult your doctor and make a plan.

2. Get tested to find out what you are allergic to.  Your doctor can refer you to a specialist in allergy testing and the results can be used to formulate a specific plan aimed at the allergens affecting you using medication such as:

  • desensitization immunotherapy injections
  • sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT), a gentler treatment in which a very small dose of the allergen (initially a 1:1,000 dilution) is put under the tongue for two minutes, then swallowed

 

3. Consider OTC (over the counter) allergy suppressants.  But be aware that many allergy medications come in the form of antihistamines which have a sedating effect and may make you feel drowsy.  They may help you sleep at night (many OTC sleeping aids contain antihistamines) but could make you less able to operate machinery or drive a car safely during the day.  They could also reduce your ability to concentrate in meetings or in the classroom.

Some of the newer antihistamines are specifically formulated to avoid the drowsiness associated with older medications.  They usually contain loratadine, the active ingredient in Claritin and Alavert.

Unfortunately, antihistamines aren’t very good at treating nasal congestion, which is often a major factor in causing disrupted sleep.  Although a decongestant can be taken in addition to the antihistamine, they can cause insomnia for about 15-20% of the population if taken at bedtime.

Remember that antihistamines only suppress the symptoms of allergies.  They do not cure the underlying condition.

4. If you want to try a natural alternative to antihistamines with many of the same qualities, try using stinging nettles (urtica dioica).  They have the advantage that they don’t cause the drowsiness or dry mouth that many pharmaceutical remedies do, but can still be effective at inhibiting the body’s production of histamine.  You can buy a freeze-dried extract in capsules, or you can make your own tinctures or teas using young leaves.  Use a firm hand or wear protective gloves when handling the leaves, though!

5. Another natural alternative to antihistamines is butterbur (petasites hybridus), a plant from the daisy family.  A 2002 study in the British Journal of Medicine reported that butterbur is as effective an antihistamine as cetirizine, the active ingredient in Piriteze, Benadryl and Zirtek and doesn’t cause the drowsiness that can be associated with these OTC remedies.  Hay fever sufferers are recommended to take up to three 50mg gelcaps a day of Butterbur Petasin until the symptoms are reduced. Like so many herbal remedies, however, the effects of long-term use of butterbur have not been studied, so it is best to use with caution and only when necessary.

6. Use natural decongestants, such as eucalyptus oil in your bath or add a dash of horseradish, chili pepper or hot mustard to your food.

7. The reduction of airborne contaminants is the number one method of relieving allergy symptoms.  Stay indoors on windy days when pollen counts are high (many local radio stations and news networks let you know the daily pollen count).  Keep windows closed and use air conditioning if you have it, including in your car.

8. If animals are causing allergic reactions, keep them out of the house, or at least out of the bedroom.  If a family member rides horses or comes into contact with animals to which another family member is allergic, get them to change clothing before coming into the house, as allergens can be carried on their clothes.  Wash pets frequently and vacuum carpets regularly.

9. Use hypoallergenic pillows and cover pillows and mattresses with barrier covers.  Wash covers frequently.

10. Try to avoid having too many cushions, cuddly toys, carpets and curtains where dust and other allergens can collect.

11. Keep the home well ventilated to avoid the growth of moulds.  Along with house dust mites, mould thrives in a humid environment.

12. Thoroughly clean the house on a regular basis.

13. Wash out your nostrils using a salt-water nasal irrigation.  When dust mold and other allergens get into your nasal passages, they often get stuck in the membrane which line those passages. Inflammation can set in, causing your nose to becomes swollen and clogged contributing to breathing problems.  Carefully washing out your nostrils using nasal irrigation can help.  (Kits available at Amazon).

14. Use hypoallergenic detergent on sheets and bedding.  The itching which may be caused by allergies to detergents can keep you awake.

15. Use mold test kits to detect mold.  If mold is detected early, it can be treated with mould killing products.

16. Consider using air purifiers.  Air purifiers can be a useful weapon against air-borne allergens, filtering them out of the air before they get into your respiratory system.

17. Use a humidifier.  If the air where you live is very dry, or if you use central heating, re-humidifying the air will keep your nasal passages clear, making it easier to breathe.  It could also reduce snoring.

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