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The Science of Sleep: Catching Some Zzzs with Urticaria

Sleep deprivation is bad for you, but falling and staying asleep when dealing with a CSU outbreak can be tough. Here are ten tips to soothe your skin and sleep better.

There’s a reason it’s called ‘beauty sleep’. After all, we know that lack of shut-eye can have a huge impact on your complexion – particularly if you’re prone to skin conditions like chronic spontaneous urticaria (CSU), eczema, or psoriasis.1,2 And, unfortunately, having one of these skin conditions could be part of the problem when it comes to you and a good night’s rest.

Research suggests sleep deprivation causes the body to go into stress mode, triggering the release of hormones that can send the immune system into overdrive.3 In the case of CSU, this sets off a cascade of biochemical changes that leads to the release of histamine,4 leaving skin itchy and inflamed5 – which could leave you scratching yourself silly.

The other problem is having a skin condition like CSU can make it hard to fall sleep in the first place!6 For starters, it’s common for hives to strike with a vengeance at night – which may be due to a natural drop in levels of a hormone called cortisol,7 which normally dampens the immune response.8 Our tolerance threshold also tends to be lower when we’re tired, so itchy skin can seem even more irritating at bedtime. And let’s face it, there’s nothing like a restless night of itching and scratching to leave you feeling exhausted and stressed the next day.

So how do you break this frustrating vicious cycle? Well, we’re glad you asked! Here are 10 ways to soothe your skin and help get a good night’s sleep…

1. Ease itching with oatmeal

A bath before bed will help to calm your whole body. Go one better and sprinkle some ground oats into the water. These ease itching by producing a soothing gelatinous film when wet that protects and moisturizes.9 Just make sure the water isn’t too hot, as this will irritate your skin.

2. Avoid last call and make a date with your bedroom

Continually burning the midnight oil can affect your cortisol levels,10 which can negatively impact your skin. Aim to be in bed early for the best chance of dropping off to sleep itch-free. That means no binge-watching your favorite episodes until the wee hours of the morning.

3. Cotton bedding keeps you cool

Natural fibers like cotton and bamboo are more absorbent than synthetic ones, so help to wick away sweat and keep skin cool.11

4. The best pajamas for hives? No pajamas!

Wear loose pajamas to avoid irritating your skin, or sleep naked to keep skin cool and allow it to breathe. Pro tip: if you live with roommates or a significant other, check with them before deciding to bare it all before bed. If you find yourself scratching while sleeping, wearing a pair of cotton gloves in bed can help.

5. Ditch the coffee (after a certain time)

Caffeine is such a powerful stimulant it can affect sleep for up to six hours after your last sip.12 Avoid tea and coffee in the afternoons and you’re less likely to lie awake feeling itchy. Better still, switch to Rooibos tea,13 which is caffeine-free and – as other teas – contains a natural antihistamine called quercetin.14

6. Dealing with an attack of hives in the night

If your skin feels itchy during the night, open a window, take a cool shower, or use a cold cloth as a compress to help ease the inflammation and reduce itching.15

7. There’s an app for that!

Download a sleep app like Deep Sleep or Relax & Sleep, which both use hypnosis to send your body into a state of deep relaxation at bedtime. In fact, studies have shown hypnosis is beneficial for people with CSU.16

8. Vitamin D for the win

Vitamin D appears to play a role in both the regulation of sleep17 and the immune system.18 Safe sun exposure and choosing foods rich in vitamin D like oily fish or fortified milk and cereals can help boost levels naturally.19

9. Stress less to sleep more

Addressing the triggers in your life could be the best sleeping pill there is, whether that’s speaking to your employer about your workload or taking on less outside of work.

10. Speak to your doctor about insomnia

Sleep deficiency is a serious health issue; so don’t be afraid to raise the problem with your doctor. There are a number of effective treatments available to ease hives and help promote a more restful night. In other words, there’s really no need to lose sleep over CSU. Sweet dreams!

  1. Ernst, Julia. “Managing the Psychological Comorbidities of Skin Disease.” The Dermatologist.http://www.the-dermatologist.com/content/managing-psychological-comorbidities-skin-disease Accessed 1/14/2016.
  2. Article Source: Sleep Loss and Cytokines Levels in an Experimental Model of Psoriasis. Hirotsu C, Rydlewski M, Araújo MS, Tufik S, Andersen ML (2012) Sleep Loss and Cytokines Levels in an Experimental Model of Psoriasis. PLoS ONE 7(11):e51183. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051183 http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0051183#s1
  3. The effects of 40 hours of total sleep deprivation on inflammatory markers in healthy young adults. Frey DJ, Fleshner M, Wright KP Jr. Brain Behav Immun. 2007 Nov;21(8):1050-7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=17524614
  4. Chronic autoimmune urticaria: where we stand? Goh CL, Tan KT. Indian J Dermatol. 2009 Jul;54(3):269-74. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=20161862
  5. Histamine-induced itch and its relationship with pain. Shim WS, Oh U. Mol Pain. 2008 Jul 31;4:29. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18667087
  6. Assessment of severity and quality of life in chronic urticaria. Jáuregui I, Ortiz de Frutos FJ, Ferrer M, Giménez-Arnau A, Sastre J, Bartra J, Labrador M, Silvestre JF, Valero A. J Investig Allergol Clin Immunol. 2014;24(2):80-6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=24834770 http://www.jiaci.org/issues/vol24issue2/2.pdf
  7. Replication of cortisol circadian rhythm: new advances in hydrocortisone replacement therapy. Chan S, Debono M. Ther Adv Endocrinol Metab. 2010 Jun;1(3):129-38. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=23148157 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3475279/
  8. Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science. Michael Randall. 2010. http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/fall-2010/the-physiology-of-stress-cortisol-and-the-hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-axis#.VmWWoL95rqk Last accessed: 07.01.16
  9. Website “University of Maryland Medical Center” – Psoriasis. Last accessed: 13.11.15. https://umm.edu/health/medical/ency/articles/psoriasis
  10. Night shift work and levels of 6-sulfatoxymelatonin and cortisol in men. Mirick DK, Bhatti P, Chen C, Nordt F, Stanczyk FZ, Davis S. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2013 Jun;22(6):1079-87. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23563887
  11. Website “National Eczema Society” – Itching & Scratching. Last accessed: 06.01.16. http://www.eczema.org/itching-scratching
  12. Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. Drake C, Roehrs T, Shambroom J, Roth T. J Clin Sleep Med. 2013 Nov 15;9(11):1195-200. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=24235903
  13. Protective Effects of Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) and/or Red Palm Oil (Elaeis guineensis) Supplementation on tert-Butyl Hydroperoxide-Induced Oxidative Hepatotoxicity in Wistar Rats. Ajuwon OR, Katengua-Thamahane E, Van Rooyen J, Oguntibeju OO, Marnewick JL. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:984273. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=23690869
  14. Website “University of Maryland Medical Center” – Quercetin. Last accessed: 06.01.16. https://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/quercetin
  15. Website “WebMD” – Hives and your skin. Last accessed: 06.01.16. http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/guide/hives-urticaria-angioedema?page=2
  16. Hypnosis in dermatology. Shenefelt PD. Arch Dermatol. 2000 Mar;136(3):393-9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=10724204
  17. The world epidemic of sleep disorders is linked to vitamin D deficiency. Gominak SC, Stumpf WE. Med Hypotheses. 2012 Aug;79(2):132-5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=22583560
  18. Vitamin D regulation of immune function. Bikle DD. Vitam Horm. 2011;86:1-21. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21419265
  19. Website “NHS UK” – Vitamins and minerals – Vitamin D. Last accessed: 05.01.16. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Vitamin-D.aspx

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