Household Allergens That Could Be Affecting Your Sleep

This content was created by the National Sleep Foundation.

Squelch the stuffy nose that’s keeping you up at night by sleuthing out the hidden triggers in your home.

Sniffling, sneezing, and itchy eyes aren’t the only unfortunate side effects that come with allergies; disturbed sleep is a side effect, too. And it’s a serious one: Impaired slumber can lead to fatigue, decreased productivity, depression, and memory problems. Allergies can even increase your risk of obstructive sleep apnea. Clearly, it’s crucial to cope with allergies in the name of a good night’s rest.

How Allergies Interfere With Sleep

Allergens in the air cause what’s known as allergic rhinitis, or the inflammation and irritation of the nasal passages. They can also trigger the body to produce histamines, a chemical that causes nasal congestion, post nasal drip, sneezing, and a runny nose. All of these symptoms can narrow airways and create subsequent breathing trouble, something that can make it all but impossible to sleep through the night. Some people suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis, which is set off by airborne particles from grasses, plants, and trees. But if your allergies flare year-round, there may be some sneakier allergens lurking inside your home.

Common Household Allergens (And How to Combat Them)

ONCE you identify the indoor irritants that are triggering your allergy-related sleep issues, you can take steps to minimize them and bring back great sleep.

Pet Dander: This is a very common indoor allergen. It’s made up of flakes of Fido's or Fluffy’s dead skin, though you can also be allergic to an animal’s saliva, urine, or fur. If giving up your pet isn’t an option, keep your fuzzy friend off furniture and out of your bedroom. Bathe and brush your pet at least once a week (if possible), and vacuum its favorite sleeping spots, as well as any carpets on which it walks frequently. You might also enlist someone else to clean the litter box.

Dust Mites: These are unfortunate-but-unavoidable guests in every person's home. They make their home in dust, and feed off the dead skin cells that we shed, which is why they’re mostly found in your bed and pillows. (Scary fact: Within 10 years, dead dust mites and their waste can account for half the weight of your mattress!) They also gravitate to wherever dust settles, such as the corners of a bookcase and underneath furniture. The best prevention is to invest in dust mite covers for your mattress and pillows; these are made of plastic and zip around bedding to seal in allergens so they don’t affect you at night. Be sure to wash sheets and blankets in hot water, since cold water doesn’t kill dust mites, and consider synthetic blankets instead of wool ones. Some mattresses are more resistant to dust mites than other. Check our our guide to the best mattresses for allergies here.

Mold: Mold is another prevalent allergen, hiding out in damp areas like bathrooms, laundry rooms, and basements. To prevent mold spores from spreading, open windows in humid rooms to allow air to circulate; also use the exhaust fan when you bathe or shower. Clean bathrooms regularly, focusing on corners of tile and shower curtains, both places where moisture can breed mold. If you have a leak, fix it immediately; drying dampened areas within 48 hours can prevent mold from growing. However, if you do already have a surface that’s infested with mold, especially one that’s larger than ten feet or is soft in nature (such as sheetrock), consider having a contractor replace it.

Household Fragrance: A scent around the home can be a stealth culprit. That plug-in air freshener can trigger a stuffy nose and result in fitful sleep if you’re sensitive to the chemicals that emit its spring-breeze scent. (It’s estimated that about 3,000 chemicals are used to create the fragrances in cleaners, cosmetics, and other household items.) If you are allergic, look for laundry detergents that are labeled fragrance-free, and remove any air fresheners, candles, or other heavily scented items from your bedroom.

While air conditioners, vacuums, and heating units aren’t going to cause allergies all on their own, their dusty and dirty filters can exacerbate the effects of allergens like pollen, pet dander, mold, and dust by blowing the offending particles into the air. The best protection is to clean your filters regularly by rinsing them with water, vacuuming them with a HEPA vacuum, or simply replacing them as needed.

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