Board-certified allergist Dr. Michael Pistiner shares what he wishes more of his patients knew about the association of eczema and allergies.
Published On: Feb 25, 2022
Last Updated On: Feb 25, 2022
Eczema disrupts the sleep of everyone around it: kids, parents, partners, the family dog, you name it. But we’ve got some quick tips on how you and your family can start snoozing more soundly starting tonight.
According to Dr. Dennis Rosen, associate medical director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital and assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, “Our body temperature starts to fall as we approach our usual sleep time, and warming up the body with a (not too) hot bath followed by a cooling down period may jump-start the falling asleep process.” He also noted that bathing can help relax muscles and reduce stress.
Slathering the skin with a good moisturizer (sometimes combined with prescription topical) after a bath can help lock in moisture and reduce night-time itching. Bathing and moisturizing before bed does take extra time, especially with children. But the benefits of increased, higher-quality sleep are worth the effort.
Overheating at night can lead to increased itchiness, a major cause of sleep difficulties for people with eczema. By keeping the room cool, you may be able to reduce the itch and get some sleep.
Dr. Lisa Meltzer, associate professor of pediatrics at National Jewish Health, pointed to some interesting research to support this. “Studies have shown that children with eczema sleep soundest between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., when they reach their coolest body temperatures, both internal and external,” she said.
Dr. Katrina Abuabara, board certified dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at UCSF Health, recommended keeping bedroom temperatures around 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal sleep. Keeping the bedroom cool can be a challenge, especially if you live in an apartment with central heating, or in a warmer climate. If this is the case for you, consider installing a standalone air-conditioner; be mindful of not allowing your climate control device to dry out the air too much. Consider trying an air humidifier, too, if you live in a drier, hot climate. If either of those options cause your skin to flare, and it’s still too hot, consider trying wet wrap therapy to cool down before bed.
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a mindfulness practice that involves tensing and releasing specific muscle groups for 10 seconds at a time. People commonly start by tensing the feet, then the lower legs, and move up the body to the head.
PMR is suitable for adults and older children. According to Dr. Rosen, PMR “has shown to be very effective in reducing itch, sleep disturbances and stress in people with eczema.” Jennifer LeBovidge, PhD, clinical instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, suggested that progressive muscle relaxation can “help reduce the physiological effects of stress by loosening muscles, deepening breaths and decreasing heart rate.”
If you’ve never tried it, and don’t know where to start, consider using a guided audio track. There’s even an app solely dedicated to progressive muscle relaxation.
Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone that helps prepare the body for sleep. Research has shown that taking melatonin supplements can help people fall asleep faster.1 Dr. Meltzer explained that while melatonin can help people fall asleep, it doesn’t always help them stay asleep. She recommends trying time-release melatonin if you wake frequently during the night. Be sure to check with a health care provider before trying it.
It’s also best to be cautious when giving melatonin to children. Dr. Meltzer explained, “There are concerns that melatonin may interfere with hormonal development, although there are no long-term studies showing that (only in animals).” Dr. Meltzer also recommended using pharmaceutical grade melatonin, as the dosage may not be accurate in other products. For a thorough overview of the potential risk and benefits of melatonin, check out our article “Get the Facts: Melatonin.”
Research has shown that blue light emitted from computer, television and phone screens interferes with the body’s natural production of melatonin.2 This makes it harder to fall asleep. Blue light exposure before bed can also reduce sleep duration.3
Dr. Meltzer had the following advice: “Set a bedtime for everyone’s devices and tuck them in to charge in a central location (i.e., kitchen). It is best if devices are shut down 30-60 minutes before bedtime.”
It can be difficult to turn off devices completely for that length of time before bed. If you need to work on a computer, or use an electronic reader, consider using the night-time setting (which uses less blue light), or special glasses that block blue light.
Your after-dinner coffee may seem harmless, but according to Dr. Meltzer, “Four to six hours after you consume caffeine, it is usually still buzzing in your brain.” Cutting back on caffeine, especially later in the day could be an important key to getting more sleep.
This is especially true for children. Dr. Rosen recommended eliminating caffeine for children after noon. And remember that caffeine is in chocolate and energy drinks and can be found in sodas like root beer.
If you have a busy schedule, cutting your afternoon or evening coffee may seem impossible. It’s best to start with small, manageable steps like switching to decaf, for example, or naturally decaffeinated green tea.
When you have eczema, sleep can get complicated, and getting a restful seep can take some extra effort. Enjoy the good nights, have patience with the bad ones, and know that a good night’s sleep is possible, maybe even tonight.