April Showers Bring May Flowers…And Springtime Allergies
May flowers usher in allergies for many people. It’s estimated that over 60 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies or asthma, and over 75 percent report that their allergies cause them to lose sleep, resulting in excessive daytime sleepiness.
A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine states that allergic rhinitis has a “significant impact on all dimensions of sleep quality.” It also found that allergy sufferers showed impaired memory and mood, consistent with other research involving inadequate sleep.
In the spring and summer, pollen from trees, grass, weeds and flowers permeates the air. Dust mites and other airborne contaminants also thrive in the warmer months. Allergy sufferers immediately sense these as their immune systems overreact and produce histamine. Histamine is a chemical in the body that dilates the blood vessels to increase blood flow to the part of the body affected by the allergy. This triggers our body’s inflammatory response, resulting in red, itchy eyes, nasal congestion and a runny nose.
Under normal conditions, histamine is also an important neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and wakefulness. Unfortunately, its overproduction during allergy season may interfere with a good night’s sleep.
Antihistamines (like diphenhydramine, found in Benadryl®) counteract an allergic reaction by blocking the actions of histamine. Because they are a fairly potent sedative, antihistamines are also the major component found in sleep aids like Tylenol® P.M.
In addition to causing uncomfortable symptoms, allergies affect our sleep in other ways. We tend to toss and turn more to alleviate fluid build-up. Snoring can also increase as nasal airways constrict. A study evaluating 14 adults who suffered from seasonal nasal allergies found the subjects to have 40 percent more "micro-arousals” (brief interruptions in sleep without completely waking up) during their peak allergy season versus their off season. This left them feeling fatigued in the daytime.
Unfortunately, the bedroom is one of the most “polluted” (allergen-wise) rooms in the house. We bring lots of allergens into the bedroom from outside on our clothes, our hair and our pets, and there are lots of places for the allergens to thrive—in bedding, upholstery, carpeting, drapes, and our clothes in closets and drawers.
The bedroom also presents other especially difficult challenges. Many bedrooms don’t have the circulation and airflow like rooms more central in the house, and air can become stagnant. We spend long, uninterrupted hours in the bedroom, breathing in the same air, and we are in close, constant contact with our beds—a particularly active environment for allergens.
Whether seasonal or aggravated by indoor pollutants, allergens don’t have to keep us from getting the rest we need.