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Allergies and Sleep

Sneezing, runny nose, postnasal drip, watery and itchy eyes -- whether it’s symptoms or the medication you use to treat them that’s keeping you up, allergies can make it hard for you to get a good night’s sleep.

When your nose is stopped up and you start breathing through your mouth, it can irritate your throat. You’re also more likely to snore – which may disturb your bed partner, too. If you have sleep apnea, congestion makes it worse.

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Does your child miss school due to allergies? If so, you're not alone. Seasonal allergies are believed to affect as many as 40% of U.S. children. On any given day, about 10,000 of those children miss school because of their allergies. That's a total of more than 2 million lost school days every year. Even if your child doesn't miss school, allergies can get in the way of a productive school day, so managing allergies at school is an important part of caring for your child's health.

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Allergies can also cause headaches and even wheezing at night. And then there’s postnasal drip -- when mucus drips down the back of your throat, it can cause you to cough. Just when you were finally dropping off…

But you don’t have to take all this lying down, so to speak.

How to Control Allergies and Get Some Sleep

The first thing to do is to avoid things that trigger your allergies, like dust mites, pet dander, or pollen.

Get hypoallergenic pillows and bedding. Pillow and mattress covers may help.

If you have pets in the bedroom or bed, consider finding someplace else for Fido or Kitty to nap.

Check your home's heating and air system and consider an upgrade with better air filtration, if needed.

Vacuum carpets and furniture regularly. Newer vacuums are much better at actually capturing allergens and not just kicking them up in the air.

If you use a humidifier, change the water regularly, so mold doesn’t grow.

Allergy Treatments

If that doesn’t work, some over-the-counter and prescription treatments include:

Saline nasal flushes. This is a drug-free way to relieve congestion. The effects may not last long.

Nasal decongestant sprays. These sprays can help clear your nose, but you should not use them for more than 3 days. Using them longer can actually make you more stopped up.

Nasal decongestant pills or liquids. These also work well and can provide long-lasting relief, but you may not want to use them at night. Some can keep you awake, especially those with pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine.

Antihistamines. They will dry up your runny nose and postnasal drip, but they can have side effects such as dizziness, blurred vision,  and a "hangover effect" of sleepiness the next morning. You shouldn't use them long-term.

Steroid nasal sprays. These sprays actually help stop your immune system from overreacting to things you’re allergic to. They take a while to work, but they do help prevent symptoms when used regularly.

If allergies are keeping you from getting the sleep you need, or medication side effects are bothering you, talk to your doctor or see an allergist for a complete evaluation and treatment options. A good night’s sleep is within your reach!

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on November 05, 2012
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