10 ways to sleep better during allergy season

Don’t let allergies interfere with getting a good sleep. Try these tips to ensure you’re well rested

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sleeping woman

How allergies affect sleep

Not only does the sheer misery induced by allergy symptoms keep you awake at night, but your body’s immunological response to those allergens disrupts the systems set up to regulate your sleep. So the key to a good night’s sleep is to keep allergens at bay – or, when that’s simply impossible, find a way to minimize your body’s reaction to them. Here’s how to do it.

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Wash out your nasal passages

When allergens, dust, and mold enter your nasal passages, they tend to get stuck in the membrane lining those passages. Inflammation sets in, your nose becomes swollen and clogged, and a nasty sinus infection can be the result. Fortunately, however, “nasal irrigation, if it is done correctly and gently, can remove allergens, irritants, and inflammatory mucus,” says William H. Anderson, M.D., a member of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.

To wash out your nasal passages:
• Fill a bowl with 2 cups (473 mL) of water that feels as though it’s around body temperature.
• Mix in 1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) salt and stir to dissolve. (If you are sensitive to iodine, use non-iodized salt.)
• Pick up a small bulb syringe (available from your local drugstore) and squeeze out all the air. Put the narrow end into the saltwater solution and release the bulb to suck up the saltwater into the bulb.
• Insert the tip of the syringe into one nostril-no farther than the width of your fingertip-and tilt the syringe tip toward the outer corner of your eye. Gently release the bulb and allow the water to gently squirt into your nose as you continue to lean over the sink.
• Let the water drain out of your nostril back into the sink. Don’t be alarmed if it comes out of your other nostril or your mouth. Both nostrils and the back of your mouth are all connected.
• Repeat the procedure, switch nostrils, and then wash the second nostril twice.

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nasal spray

Use a saline nasal spray

“Nasal saline sprays can be very helpful,” says Dr. Anderson. Use them throughout the day and particularly at night before bed. Avoid daily use of nasal vasoconstricting nose sprays, such as Afrin. If you use them for more than three days, you will become addicted. The nasal passages will swell and obstruct airway passages until the effect wears off – another three days.

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Look for the newer antihistamines

Older antihistamines can cause dry mouth or, when sold combined with decongestants, prevent sleep. “Newer antihistamines-including loratadine (generic Claritin), fexofenadine (generic Allegra), prescription Zyrtec, and prescription Clarinex don’t interfere with sleep like some of the older ones do,” says Dr. Anderson. Check with your doctor to see if one of them is right for you.

Note: Forget about taking an OTC decongestant. “Over-the-counter decongestants can cause insomnia, says Dr. Anderson. If sleep is your objective, forget about taking ’em.

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woman in shower

Shower with eucalyptus

Head into the bathroom, turn on the shower, and fill the room with steam. Then sprinkle a half-dozen drops of essential oil of eucalyptus on your wet bath mitt, lather the mitt with an unscented soap, and wash your entire body from top to bottom. By the time you hit your feet, your nose will be breathing freely, your sinuses will be clear, and your throat will feel soothed and moisturized.


For an extra treat after you shampoo, use a few drops of eucalyptus in the final rinse for your hair. Keep it out of your eyes.

To keep pollen out of the bedroom, shower right before bed, use a dryer-dried towel, and don dryer-dried bedclothes.

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Install air conditioning

If you can afford it, it will help keep pollen out of your home and keep the humidity low to discourage dust mites. If you can’t afford to air-condition your whole space, try using a room-size window air conditioner in your bedroom. It may help you sleep. Budget not up to even that? Then buy a HEPA filter and shape it to fit over your bedroom window screen, says Dr. Anderson. The pollens won’t get in.

Change filters on both cooling and heating systems. Those filters help trap allergens, but they’ll get clogged unless they’re changed every three months. HEPA filters are a bit pricey but are clearly the most effective.

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Avoid the outdoors in the early morning

Close your windows in the morning. Pollen is usually emitted between 5:00 and 10:00 A.M. To avoid giving yourself a big dose before you even open your peepers, close windows the night before.

Exercise after 10:00 A.M. You’ll breathe better and get a better workout if you exercise after that 5:00 to 10:00 A.M. blast of pollen.

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Use hot water for laundry

A study at Yonsei University in South Korea looked at what it took to clean dust mites, dog dander, and tree pollen – three of the most common allergens – off your sheets.

For dust mites it turns out that cold water killed 5 to 8 percent. Warm water killed 7 to 11 percent. Hot water – 60°C or 140°F – killed 100 percent.

For dog dander the results were similar – although nearly all allergens were removed at all wash temperatures when rinsing twice or more.

For tree pollen using hot water was more effective than other temperatures. Rinsing at least once removed tree pollen at all temperatures.

Wash clothes and bedding weekly, says Dr. Anderson. It’s the only way to stay on top of the allergens that disrupt sleep.

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Doing Laundry

Use the dryer

Hanging laundry on the line allows a zillion pollens and molds to collect on sheets, clothes, and towels. When you fold your laundry, drop it into the laundry basket, and haul it back into your home, you’re contaminating your house with millions upon millions of the very things to which you may be allergic.

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allergy dogs

Ban pets from the bedroom

A lot of people are apparently allergic to dog and cat dander without even being aware of it, says Dr. Anderson. They think their itchy nose and sneezing are due to something else altogether. But play it on the safe side. Let Beans or Spike or Rufus sleep in his own bed several rooms away from yours.

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woman in bed

Use allergy-proof mattress and pillow covers

The cost of “allergy-proof” mattress and pillow covers can give you a heart attack, but those babies are worth their weight in gold. Dust mites are everywhere in everyone’s home – and one of their preferential living spaces is your mattress. Zipping up the mattress and pillows in a mite-proof cover assures that the little critters can’t interfere with your sleep.

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16 ways to beat allergy symptoms

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