A guest blog from Ruth Holroyd of the award-winning WhatAllergy site.
Anyone with eczema, atopic dermatitis or any dry skin condition, as well as those going through topical steroid withdrawal, will probably associate sleep with a level of anxiety and itching. Going to bed can trigger a scratching episode due a number of potential reasons; dust allergy to the mites in the bedding, your skin warming up, getting overheated, synthetic bedding, a stuffy room and many more triggers.
There are obvious things you can do: switch to cotton or natural night clothing, only buy 100% cotton bedding, buy some dust protectors for the mattress and pillows and optimise your bedroom temperature (it can be helpful to have a cold bedroom at night).
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Getting a good night’s sleep is an art form and one that you can hone and perfect in your own home to help you get the most benefits from a good night’s sleep.
Here are few more ideas you may not have thought of!
Before sleep: have a winding down routine
Finish chores: by this I mean washing up, cleaning, bringing work home etc. Stop these kinds of activities by 9pm (or two hours before you go to sleep), and start to wind down.
No screen time: turn off the TV or computers for at least an hour before bed
Herbal tea: drink chamomile or Sleepytime tea or a warm milky drink at least a few hours before bed. Avoid caffeine after 6pm.
Dormesan tincture from Dr Vogel should aid sleep. I take this every night if I’m struggling to sleep. Other natural herbal remedies that may help include valerian, passiflora and hops.
20 minutes meditation: find a quiet space, sit with your back straight and either do a guided meditation or concentrate on your breathing and gratitude for 10-20 minutes before bed.
Antihistamines: if you’re really itchy, not only could these help to reduce itching but it can make you drowsy too; if this applies to you it could be worth a try
Keep your bedroom tidy! Make it a quiet, calm and peaceful place. Don’t work in your bedroom, try to keep it just for sleep. Make it an oasis of calm. Ideally also avoid having a TV in the bedroom.
Buy an oil diffuser: they will spread a gentle aroma in the room. They’re also safe as they don’t involve any candles and are much better for indoor air quality. Make sure you buy good quality, 100% natural essential oils. One known to aid sleep is lavender.
Cool temperature: have a window open, turn off the radiator in your room and don’t heat your house at night. It’s far healthier to get warm from snuggling in bed and having a cool head outside the covers.
Natural, cotton bedding: this should prevent you getting over heated. Synthetic covers and bedding may make you overheat and sweat.
Melatonin supplements: people who have low levels of melatonin can struggle to sleep so taking a good natural melatonin supplement could help.
Fan: if you get hot at night, keep a fan by the bedside. Some air purifiers have a fan setting or you could invest in a neck fan which is very quiet and you just lay it to the side once you’ve cooled down.
An old-fashioned alarm clock: this will help you banish the phone from the bedroom and avoid the temptation to look, check and so wake yourself up again by stimulating your brain.
Bandage up sore skin: I find this almost stops itching and allows me to sleep better. I also use tubular bandages most nights and the pressure of the tightness seems to allay some of the itching. It’s not a complete cure and I usually often still have some kind of itch attack at night but I’m learning to cope with these better each time. I can stop myself, then try to touch the itchy areas with fluttery light touches, soothing touches and gently brush the itch away.
Yoga: do a short yoga session, working on gentle flows or some of your favourite positions. Choose relaxing postures and not awakening strong ones. I find this can really help me focus on the practise of yoga and so move me into a more tranquil mindset for sleep. I have been known to fall asleep on my yoga mat! To avoid this I try to remember to set an alarm 🙂
Assess your day and plan for tomorrow. I find it also helps me to review my actions for each day, tick off what I’ve done. Then spend a few minutes noting down the key actions for the following day. Mark anything that’s particularly worrying you, a difficult task still to be completed and in this way you can leave it on the pages of your work book and hopefully not worry about it in the small hours.
Have the intention to sleep: this is something I learnt from the book, The Miracle Morning. An absolutely brilliant book. You need to believe you will sleep well and wake refreshed. Say it to yourself. Really believe it. Because going to sleep dreading itching and insomnia is almost a recipe for a bad night’s sleep.
And when you get into bed...
Slow your breathing: this will help lower your heart rate. There are loads of techniques you can try. Start by breathing in for four seconds, hold for four seconds and breathe out for four seconds. It can help you focus to say ‘breathing in’ and ‘breathing out’ in your had with the breath.
Adopt a sleep posture: lie on your back, arms by your sides and legs out flat, without crossing them. Allow your body to relax and sink into your mattress
Accept the itch: if you are itching at night, allow it to be there. Acknowledge it and talk to it. Ah here we go, it’s an itch. Let it know it’s OK and that we can just be itchy, but that you know this will pass. Don’t beat yourself up every time you do scratch. Try to see this as normal for you at the moment and don’t get cross about it.
Weighted blankets: they can also be called anxiety blankets and have just the right amount of weight to calm you, relieve stress and so ease you into sleep. I’ve been using one for about a month and think it helps.
Listening to sleep stories or music: if you struggle to get off to sleep, try listening to sleep stories or music. I highly recommend the Calm App. They also have relaxation sessions especially designed to help you slowly let go, relax and fall asleep.
Listening to an audio book: as long as it’s not a grizzly, scary thriller, this can relax and soothe you as you listen. One of the best things I did last year was investing in Audible, an audio book app for your phone.
Read a book: reading a few chapters of a good book before bed is a great way to set yourself up for a good restful sleep. Just try to avoid really stimulating reading matter like horror or thrillers which might raise your heart rate.
Darkness: I also need the room to be as dark as possible, with blackout blinds and no blinking lights or technology glowing. Eye masks can help if you’re somewhere that has light sources and you cannot make it dark.
Cuddling: if you share your bed and your partner is sympathetic, it can help to cuddle before sleep to help you feel soothed and calm. In the absence of a human you could hold a large teddy bear or pillow. There is something about the solidity of another in your arms that is calming.
Sleep is vitally important for healthy skin, mind and body. Working out a good sleep routine could really help you reduce anxiety and hopefully have a less itchy night’s sleep. Not all the suggestions above will work for everyone but they’re things that have helped me learn to work with my skin to ensure the best possible chance of a good sleep.
There will always be nights when the itch is too much. If you can get up, walk around and cool down and calm down, this can really help break that itch cycle.
Finally, hydrate a few hours before you go to bed with water or herbal tea and remember to have a pot of Balmonds Skin Salvation emollient by the bedside so you can apply some in the night if you wake feeling dry and itchy.
But hopefully these tips will help you achieve scratch free sweet dreams. Night night all! xxx
Ruth Holroyd is the founder of What Allergy, an award-winning blog about all things allergy. Ruth is passionate about raising awareness of allergies, anaphylaxis, eczema, topical steroid withdrawal and asthma, all life limiting conditions. She lobbies parliament, speaks regularly at events and shows and is a judge for the FreeFrom Food and Skin Care Awards.