Allergies Worse at Night? Here’s Why and What To Do

Allergies can be worse at night as you’re laying down, allergic to something in your bedroom, and it’s a time when you have no distractions.
Updated
2024-01-06
18 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
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Sniffling, sneezing, itching, and wheezing? You might have allergies. And while allergies are annoying during the day, they’re even more disruptive at night when they stop you from getting the sleep you need to feel and function your best. 

And, in an even more cruel twist of fate, allergies can often get worse at night. But you need sleep to help your immune system fend off allergens, and sleep deprivation can make allergies worse.

Below, we’ll cover why allergies can be worse at night and what you can do to stop them. Plus, we’ll cover how the RISE app can help you get the sleep you need to optimize your energy levels, health, and well-being, both when you’re suffering from allergies and when you get some relief. 

What are Nighttime Allergies?

Nighttime allergies are caused by the same things as daytime allergies. Common culprits include:

  • Pollen
  • Dust mites 
  • Pet dander 
  • Mold  

Sometimes, you may feel allergy symptoms throughout the day and then they get worse at night. Or you may feel totally fine during the day, only to be struck down with a runny nose and itchy eyes when you crawl into bed. 

Nighttime allergy symptoms include: 

  • Nasal congestion 
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing 
  • A sore throat 
  • Itchy and watery eyes 
  • Coughing 
  • Headaches
  • Postnasal drip  
  • Puffy eyes 
  • Breathlessness 

Why are My Allergies Worse at Night?

You’re not imagining it, allergies can get worse at night. There are a few reasons why this can happen.

1. You’re Laying Down 

Nasal congestion gets worse when you lay down. Congestion can linger in your body during the day and then, when you lay down, flow up into your nasal passages and throat and increase your symptoms. 

You don’t have the helping hand of gravity to drain away congestion when you’re laying down in bed, so you may feel more stuffy or cough and wheeze more throughout the night. 

2. Nasal Congestion Follows a Circadian Rhythm

RISE app screenshot showing your energy peak and dip times
The RISE app can predict your circadian rhythm each day.

Your circadian rhythm is your body’s roughly 24-hour biological clock. Almost everything in your body runs on a circadian rhythm, including nasal congestion. Nasal congestion is worse during the night and early morning, so you may notice symptoms more when in bed. Asthma also follows a circadian rhythm, with symptoms getting worse at night. 

Beyond the circadian rhythm of nasal congestion, you may notice it more at night, no matter how severe it is. When everything’s running smoothly, we have a natural tendency to breathe through our noses when we sleep. But if allergies stop you from breathing through your nose, you may notice this symptom more as you’re trying to drift off or if it wakes you up during the night. 

Curious what your circadian rhythm looks like? The RISE app predicts your circadian rhythm each day, showing you when your body naturally wants to wake up and go to sleep, and when your predictable energy fluctuations will be each day. Get in sync for more energy and endless health benefits. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to see their circadian rhythm on the Energy screen.

3. You’re Breathing Through Your Mouth 

Your nose filters air as you breathe in, removing allergens before they enter your system. But some of us breathe through our mouths at night, either because we’re congested or simply out of habit. 

When we breathe through our mouths, this natural filtration doesn’t happen and more allergens can get into your bodies and trigger symptoms. 

You’re more likely to be woken up from sleep if you’re mouth breathing, too, and then you may notice allergy symptoms as you’re lying awake in bed.

4. Dust Mites Thrive in Your Bedroom  

Brace yourself, but there are millions of dust mites living in your bedroom right now. These mites feed on dead skin cells and thrive in warm environments like your mattress, pillow, bedding, upholstered furniture, carpets, and curtains. 

Dust mites are a common allergy trigger and many of us are allergic to the feces, urine, and shed body parts they leave behind. And while dust mites can trigger allergies at any time, you may be most exposed to them at night when you’re laying in bed. 

According to the American Lung Association, about four out of five US homes have dust mite allergens in at least one bed. 

Dust mites aren’t the only pests that can cause allergies. Up to a whopping 98% of urban homes contain cockroaches and many of us are allergic to their saliva, droppings, and shed body parts.

5. You’re Reacting to Something in Your Bedroom 

Beyond dust mites, there may be something else in your bedroom triggering your allergies at night. 

Indoor allergens include: 

  • Mold, especially if you have an adjoining bathroom where mold spores can develop  
  • Pet dander, especially if your pet shares your bed 

6. The Pollen Count Can Increase at Night 

If your allergies are triggered by pollen you may think you’re safe inside at night, but that’s not always the case. Pollen levels for some plants increase at night, so symptoms may hit you harder when you’re laying in bed, especially if you’re sleeping with the window open during the spring and summer. 

This isn’t the case for all plants, but one study found maximum nighttime pollen concentrations for Ambrosia were over 30% higher than during the day. There are also grass species that release pollen in the late evening and many plants release pollen in the early morning, so you may wake up to a stuffy nose and itchy eyes. 

7. There’s Nothing Else Distracting You

RISE app screenshot showing when to limit your caffeine intake
The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day.

You may have allergies during the day, but you’ve got meetings to attend, errands to run, and kids to look after. Your sniffles are the least of your worries. It’s only when you’re laying in bed with nothing else going on that you suddenly notice your allergy symptoms. 

These allergy symptoms can become even more of a problem for you as they make falling asleep much harder to do. This can cause anxiety over lost sleep, keeping you awake and suffering with your allergies for longer.  

A 2022 study found allergic rhinitis is linked with anxiety and depression, both of which make it harder to get the sleep you need. And stress is linked to allergy flare-ups, too. 

The problems don’t end when you finally manage to fall asleep, though. Breathing difficulties are linked to a lower arousal threshold. Your arousal threshold is how easily you can be awoken from sleep. The lower your threshold, the more easily you can be woken up. 

That means when you’re suffering from allergies, you may wake up more often during the night due to noise, light, or due to poor sleep hygiene, meaning you notice your symptoms a lot more as you may be awake more during the night. 

Heads-up: Sleep hygiene is the name for the set of habits you can do each day to get the best night’s sleep possible. These include keeping a consistent sleep schedule; making sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet; and avoiding alcohol, bright light, and caffeine too late in the day. 

The RISE app can tell you when exactly to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day to help you fall and stay asleep at night. Even when allergies at night are keeping you up, good sleep hygiene will make sure nothing else gets in the way of a good night’s sleep. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications. 

How to Stop Allergies at Night?

The best way to stop allergies at night will depend on what type of allergy you have. Here’s how to reduce allergies in general, and how to fight common allergens. 

Heads-up: Some ways of stopping allergies can impact your sleep — like taking drowsiness-inducing allergy meds or staying inside during pollen season. We’ve recommended sleep-friendly allergy fixes and covered how you can counteract any adverse effects some of these tips have on sleep. 

1. Adjust Your Sleeping Position 

Your sleeping position has a huge impact on how comfortable you are, and therefore how easy you find it to fall and stay asleep. But it may also help to reduce allergy symptoms at night. 

Try sleeping on your side. This can promote nasal breathing, which will help filter out allergens. Sleeping on your back with your head elevated can also encourage nasal breathing and it has the added benefit of gravity helping to drain away congestion. 

We’ve covered the best side to sleep on here and how to sleep with a stuffy nose here.

2. Breath Through Your Nose 

This may be easier said than done, especially if you’re congested from allergies, but, if possible, try breathing through your nose to promote your body’s natural filtration system. 

Nasal breathing also comes with other health benefits like reducing snoring and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), lowering anxiety, and improving self-reported sleep quality. 

When not congested, practice breathing through your nose to train your body to use this as your go-to breathing method. Breathing exercises, quitting smoking, and using nasal strips or dilators can also help.

We’ve covered how to stop mouth breathing at night here.

3. Fight Dust Mites 

Keep dust mite populations as low as possible by washing bedding weekly in extra hot water — ideally 130 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Clean and vacuum your home, especially your bedroom, regularly. Cut down on cushions and rugs (or wash these regularly), and consider switching to wood flooring instead of carpet in your bedroom. 

Invest in a hypoallergenic pillowcase and mattress or an anti-allergen mattress or box spring cover. An air filter, like a HEPA filter, can remove dust mites allergens from the air.

Dust mites thrive in humid areas, so use a dehumidifier to reduce the humidity in your home to below 50%. Watch out, though — when the air is too dry this can cause congestion, which can cause sleep problems.

Cockroaches a problem, too? Call an exterminator as soon as you notice them.

4. Keep Pets Out of Your Bedroom 

Even if your beloved pet doesn’t cause you any problems during the day, a build-up of pet dander on your bed can trigger allergies when you lay down. 

Ideally, make your pet sleep in a different room from you, or at least not in your bed. Wash your bedding regularly to prevent any build-up.

If you have a pet allergy and don’t have a pet, take extra care to clean the clothes you wear when visiting someone with an animal and shower before bed to avoid transferring any pet dander to your bedding.

5. Reduce Pollen Build Up 

You can’t stop plants from releasing pollen, but you can minimize how much of it gets into your bedroom, triggering pollen allergies at night. 

Take your shoes off before going into your home, and don’t bring coats or outside clothing into your bedroom. Take a shower when you come home or before bed to get rid of any pollen on your skin and hair. 

Keeping your windows closed, especially in your bedroom, can also help reduce seasonal allergies. But just be sure not to make your room too warm as this can make it harder to fall asleep. Set your thermostat to 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit to counter this. 

You can also invest in an air filter that can remove pollen from the air.

You might want to avoid going outside in the morning when the pollen count is high. But beware, getting sunlight as soon as possible after waking up is hugely beneficial for helping you fall asleep each night. 

If morning walks severely trigger your allergies, consider getting sunlight through a window or from a light therapy lamp instead of going outside. 

6. Treat Mold 

Mold allergies are common, so treat mold as soon as you spot it. Mix about one cup of bleach with a gallon of water and wipe down any surfaces where mold has started to grow. 

Make sure your house is well ventilated and use a dehumidifier to remove excess moisture from the air. 

7. Try Breathing Exercises 

Breathing exercises can help promote nasal breathing and can even help relieve congestion without turning to medication. They can also help reduce anxiety.

To decongest your nose, try this exercise: 

  • Take a normal breath through your nose 
  • Use your fingers to pinch your nose to hold your breath 
  • Continue pinching and nod your head up and down, then side to side 
  • Hold your breath for as long as you can, until you feel the urge to breathe 
  • Let go of your nose and try to breathe through it as calmly as possible  
  • Rest for 30 to 60 seconds then repeat. Do this six times. 

We’ve covered more breathing exercises before bed here to help you relax and drift off.

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8. Take Allergy Medication 

Get some allergy relief with medication. While allergy medication doesn’t solve the root cause of the problem, it can be useful to help ease symptoms to help you fall asleep. 

Be sure not to overuse allergy medication, though. Decongestants can increase congestion when you use them too much. Plus, it's possible to become dependent on an allergy medication like Benadryl and start to feel like you can't sleep without it.

And some medications can make you feel drowsy, affecting your daytime performance and how well you maintain your sleep hygiene. Drowsiness might cause you to skip a workout and reach for another cup of coffee, both of which can impact your sleep. 

As nasal congestion can be worse at night, taking allergy meds in the evening can help treat this at the right time. For example, antihistamine mequitazine is more effective at treating allergy symptoms when taken in the evening compared to the morning. 

Heads-up: If your allergies continue to stop you from getting the sleep you need and start affecting your quality of life, speak to your healthcare provider or an allergist. They can run tests to see what you’re allergic to and recommend the best allergy treatment options for you, like allergy shots or allergy immunotherapy, which involves retraining your immune system. 

Can a Lack of Sleep Make Allergies Worse?

RISE app screenshot showing how much sleep debt you have
The RISE app can work out how much sleep debt you have.

Allergies and sleep loss may be a vicious cycle. When you have allergies, you might have sleep issues like struggling to fall asleep or waking up often during the night, causing you to lose out on sleep. 

One study found people with allergic rhinitis from dust mites experience snoring, difficulty falling asleep, waking up often during the night, and poor sleep quality (although there’s no set definition for sleep quality). The worse the allergy, the worse their sleep problems. 

All this causes sleep deprivation, but sleep deprivation can make allergies worse, resulting in more symptoms and more sleep loss. 

A 2022 study found people who got insufficient sleep (defined in this study as six hours or less a night) had 1.27 times higher odds of developing allergic sensitization compared to those who got adequate sleep (defined as seven to eight hours a night).

Allergic sensitization is when your body becomes sensitive to an allergen, eventually becoming allergic to it and giving you symptoms when you’re exposed to it. 

And short sleep duration has also been linked to more asthma symptoms. A 2020 study found lung function was worse when teenagers only got 6.5 hours of sleep compared to 9.5 hours.

We don’t all need the same amount of sleep each night, though. The amount of sleep you need is called your sleep need. It’s determined by genetics, just like height and eye color. 

One study suggests the average sleep need is 8 hours 40 minutes, plus or minus 10 minutes or so, but 13.5% of the population may need 9 hours or more sleep a night.

To find out your unique sleep need, turn to the RISE app. RISE uses a year’s worth of phone use behavior and proprietary sleep-science-based models to work out your sleep need down to the minute.

When you don’t meet your sleep need, you start building up sleep debt. We measure this over your last 14 nights and recommend you keep it below five hours to maximize your health and energy levels. Keeping sleep debt low overall will also ensure your immune system is working as well as it can. 

Want to dive deeper? We’ve covered whether allergies make you tired here. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep need and here to view their sleep debt.

Can Allergies Cause Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes you to stop breathing temporarily throughout the night. It can happen when your airways collapse and cut off your breathing. When your brain detects low oxygen levels it wakes you up to kickstart your breathing again. 

Sleep apnea can be caused by many things including obesity, smoking, and alcohol consumption. And allergies can also trigger it. 

Congestion can build up in your throat and irritate your airways, making it harder to breathe. Congestion can also make your throat muscles more likely to relax and obstruct your airways. 

One meta-analysis found allergic rhinitis and sleep apnea often go hand in hand. The prevalence of allergic rhinitis was almost 23% in those with sleep-disordered breathing and 35% in those with sleep apnea. 

It was even higher for children with the prevalence of allergic rhinitis being almost 41% in those with sleep-disordered breathing and 45% in those with sleep apnea. 

The study says that allergic rhinitis can contribute to the development of sleep apnea. 

A 2022 study found people with sleep apnea symptoms had 2.75 times higher odds of experiencing hay fever compared to those without sleep apnea symptoms, and 1.54 times higher odds of eczema.

Allergies can also cause mouth breathing and snoring, which can lead to the development or worsening of sleep apnea. 

We’ve covered how to know if you have sleep apnea here. 

Fall Asleep Without the Sniffles  

Sniffling and sneezing through the day isn’t fun, but allergy flare-ups get much more annoying — and harmful — at night when they cause trouble falling and staying asleep. Allergies often get worse at night as laying down increases congestion and common allergies like dust mites thrive in your bedroom.

To reduce symptoms, try showering before bed, washing your bedding regularly, and sleeping with your head elevated. 

Beyond these quick fixes, maintaining excellent sleep hygiene can make sure nothing else gets in the way of better sleep, and meeting your sleep need each night can reduce the odds of allergic reactions. 

Be mindful of allergy fixes that get in the way of good sleep hygiene, like skipping morning sunlight exposure or taking drowsiness-inducing allergy meds. In an effort to fix your allergies at night, you can make your sleep worse.

Need a helping hand? The RISE app can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits and work out your individual sleep need and how much sleep debt you have. Keep sleep debt low and sleep hygiene on point for maximum energy, both when you’re suffering from allergies and when you finally get some relief. 

Summary FAQs

Do allergy symptoms get worse at night?

Yes, allergy symptoms get worse at night. This can happen because laying down increases congestion, you’re allergic to things in your bedroom like dust mites, and you’re more aware of symptoms when you don’t have daytime distractions.

Allergies at night only

You may have allergies at night only because you’re allergic to something in your bedroom, like dust mites. Laying down can also increase congestion and you may notice symptoms at night when you don't have any distractions.

Allergies at night in winter

You may have allergies at night in winter because you’re allergic to something in your bedroom, like dust mites. You may open your windows less in winter, causing mold, dust, and pet dander to build up. Laying down can also increase congestion and you may notice symptoms at night when you don't have any distractions.

What happens if you sleep with allergies?

If you sleep with allergies, you may find it harder to drift off as you’re sneezing, coughing, and finding it harder to breathe. When you fall asleep, you may snore or have sleep apnea episodes, or you may wake up during the night with symptoms.

How to stop allergies at night

Stop allergies at night by showering before bed, cleaning your bedding regularly, using an air purifier, sleeping with your head elevated, keeping pets out of your bedroom, and taking allergy medication in the evening.

What position is best to sleep with allergies?

Sleeping on your back with your head elevated is the best position to sleep with allergies. When your head is elevated, gravity can help drain congestion away, helping you breathe more easily.

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