It’s bad enough coping with itchy, dry or inflamed skin during the day, but add sleepless nights to the mix, and dermatitis can become tortuous.
Up to 80% of atopic dermatitis sufferers struggle with night-time itching, and it’s a very common problem for anyone with dry, sensitive or eczema-prone skin.
The first step in beating anything is to understand it, and understanding why dermatitis gets so itchy when you’re trying to sleep is fundamental to overcoming the problem. So what’s going on that makes dermatitis or eczema so very irritating at night?
The answer is that it’s a combination of a few different things!
Have a look at this list of possible explanations and see if any apply to you.
- Sleep cycles mean you naturally go through waves of deeper sleep, lighter sleep and periods of wakefulness in any given night; in the more awake phases, you may become dimly aware of the itch sensation and start scratching...
- ...and if/when you fall back to sleep, you can’t control unconscious scratching that’s been set off! Of course, the more you scratch the itchier you feel!
- Your temperature rises in the evening to prepare for sleep, which can affect how itchy your skin feels and trigger an itchy spell just before bed.
- Your production of cytokines (which aggravate inflammation) increases at night.
- Your emollients need to be applied every few hours to help prevent dehydration and itchiness; you can’t reapply them if you’re asleep.
- You may be sensitive to something you’re using before bed: your shampoo, bubble bath, or shower gel could be causing a reaction and setting off a flare.
- If your bed linen or pyjamas aren’t 100% natural you could be reacting to synthetic fabric next to your skin.
- If you’ve had a drink before bed, you might be reacting to the alcohol or caffeine, even if your bedtime tipple was only a cup of tea!
- Trans-epidermal water loss increases at night; the drier your skin, the more chance your dermatitis will flare up overnight.
Managing the night-time itch
- Apply emollients before bed: emollient ointments keep the skin more hydrated than creams or lotions
- If you bathe before going to bed, follow the 'soak and seal' routine: pat skin just barely dry, then seal in the moisture with an emollient (balm, cream or oil) within three minutes of getting out of the bath or shower.
- Keep your room cool with fans or open windows if possible
- Try a humidifier if your room is too dry
- Sleep in natural fabrics
- Wet or dry wrap if necessary
- Banish pets from the bedroom!
- Pollen-proof your room in high season, by getting changed out of outdoor clothes in the bathroom and keeping windows closed
- Avoid caffeine or alcohol before bed
For more tips and tricks on getting a good night’s sleep, read Ruth Holroyd's Sleep Tips For The Eczema-Prone on our Info Hub!
Recommended products for itchy skin:
Skin Salvation balm with beeswax, hemp & chamomile (from £7.99 for 30ml): particularly recommended for use with wet or dry wraps
Balmonds Daily Moisturising Cream with shea butter, hemp & calendula (from £13.99 for 100ml): a great, all-over cream for easy application during the night
Balmonds Bath & Body Oil with lavender, hemp & chamomile (£12.99 for 200ml): great for smoothing on immediately after bathing
Balmonds Scalp Oil with tea tree, borage & rosemary (£14.99 for 50ml): for itchy scalps
Balmonds Cooling Cream with lavender, aloe & menthol (£19 for 100ml): to calm flushed or overheated skin
If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.