Can Allergies Make You Tired? Yes, Here are 12 Fixes

Allergies can make you tired as they disrupt sleep and exhaust your immune system. Lower sleep debt and get in sync with your body clock to boost energy levels.
Updated
2024-01-06
19 MINS
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
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Can allergies make you tired?

  • Allergies can make you tired as the symptoms can easily disrupt your sleep, exhaust your immune system, and allergy meds often come with drowsiness as a side effect.
  • Fix allergy fatigue by getting tested to see what you’re allergic to; reducing your exposure to allergens by showering before bed, washing your bedding regularly, and using an air filter; and finding allergy medication that doesn’t make you feel drowsy. Lowering your sleep debt and getting in sync with your circadian rhythm will boost your energy long term.
  • The RISE app can remind you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits to help you get more sleep, have more energy, and reduce your odds of developing new allergy symptoms, too.

Allergy symptoms are a drag. You’re sniffling, sneezing, coughing, wheezing, and — just when you think it can’t get any worse — you’re hit with a wave of fatigue to top it off. 

Allergens put your immune system into overdrive and allergy symptoms make getting enough sleep hard to do. And while allergy medication can provide some relief, that too can make you feel tired. 

Luckily, there are some science-backed ways to boost your energy, even when allergies strike you down.

Below, we’ll cover whether allergies make you tired (spoiler: they do), how they drain your energy exactly, and how you can get more energy with the RISE app.

Can Allergies Make You Tired?

Along with the congestion, sneezing, and watery eyes, allergies can cause fatigue. Here’s how. 

1. Allergy Symptoms Disrupt Your Sleep

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

We all know we need to get enough sleep at night to feel our best each day. But allergies can easily disrupt your sleep, tanking your daytime energy levels.

Allergy symptoms include: 

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

You may find it hard to drift off when uncomfortable symptoms like postnasal drip and itchy eyes hit. And you may wake up during the night if breathing is harder to do. This lack of sleep adds up to daytime fatigue.

One study found people with allergic rhinitis (cold-like symptoms caused by allergic reactions) reported difficulty falling asleep, waking up often during the night, snoring, and self-reported poor sleep quality. And the worse their allergy, the worse their sleep problems were. 

Even if you’re not coughing and sneezing through the night, nasal congestion can cause fatigue. Another study states that daytime sleepiness in those with allergic rhinitis can be caused by nasal congestion and obstruction, which disturb sleep.

When your breathing is challenged, your arousal threshold is lower. Your arousal threshold is how easily you can be awoken from sleep. If you’re suffering from allergies, you may be woken up much more easily at night. This could be by light or sound, but it could also be by other poor sleep hygiene, such as a late-afternoon coffee fragmenting your sleep (more on this soon).

Allergies can also be worse at night. When you’re laying down, congestion can run up into your upper airways, making it harder to breathe properly. You might also be reacting to dust mites, which thrive in your bed, or pet dander, if you share a bed with your pet.

And you may feel anxious about allergies and the lost sleep they can cause, and anxiety makes getting sleep hard enough to do. It’s a vicious circle, too, as stress is linked to allergy flare ups.

Another surprising way allergies may disrupt your sleep is by disrupting your melatonin levels. One small study found melatonin levels were lower in those with allergic rhinitis compared to those without. As melatonin primes your body for sleep, having less of the sleep-promoting hormone in your system could make it harder to drift off and get a good night’s rest.

All these sleep problems cause a build-up of sleep debt. Sleep debt is the amount of sleep you owe your body. In the RISE app, we measure it over your last 14 nights. The higher your sleep debt, the lower your daytime energy levels are going to be. 

This too is a vicious circle. The more sleep deprived you are, the worse your allergy symptoms will be, which can cause even more sleep loss. 

A 2022 study found people who got six hours or less sleep a night had 1.27 times higher odds of developing allergic sensitization (when your body becomes sensitive to an allergen) compared to those who got seven to eight hours a night. 

You probably know if allergies are impacting your nights, but the RISE app can work out how much sleep you need each night and tell you whether you’ve got any sleep debt. This will be useful as you fight allergy fatigue and it can help you prevent future flare ups.

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

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2. Your Body’s Reaction to Allergens Can Cause Fatigue 

It’s not just the disrupted sleep that’s causing allergy fatigue. Your body’s reaction to allergies is also a culprit. 

When your body detects something it’s allergic to it releases histamine, a chemical that helps protect the body from invaders. Histamine is behind those common allergy symptoms like watery eyes and a blocked nose. 

But when you’re constantly exposed to allergens (like during allergy season when the pollen count is high, or when sleeping on a bed full of dust mites each night) your immune system has to constantly produce histamine and be on high alert. This can leave you feeling drained, just like when your body’s battling a virus or the common cold.

Beyond your immune system being exhausted, brain fog is a common symptom of allergies, which will leave you feeling tired, fuzzy, and mentally slow. 

We’ve covered how to get rid of brain fog here.

3. Allergy Medications Can Cause Drowsiness  

You may reach for medication to get some allergy relief. But while it may help with the runny nose, itchy eyes, and congestion, allergy meds may be contributing to your fatigue. 

Antihistamines like Benadryl are known to cause drowsiness, and even the ones that are labeled “non-drowsy” can cause fatigue. If you have an alcoholic drink while taking allergy medications, you’ll up your odds of them making you feel sleepy.

When you're drowsy, you may skip sleep-boosting behaviors like taking a morning walk or working out. And you may reach for an extra cup of coffee, which can keep you up come bedtime, making the next day’s fatigue even worse. 

4. Allergy Medications Can Change Your Sleep 

If you take allergy meds that make you feel drowsy, this can feel like a good thing before bed. But the sleep you get when taking the medication is manufactured sleep, as opposed to the naturalistic sleep you get when you fall asleep without the help of medication. 

Your brain activity during deep sleep doesn’t show the largest and deepest brain waves when it’s manufactured sleep. Manufactured sleep is therefore less restorative, and can leave you feeling fatigued the next day.

Your rapid-eye-movement sleep, or REM sleep, also takes a hit. Antihistamines block the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which plays a primary role in REM sleep. You get less REM and more non-REM sleep, which results in more next-day drowsiness.  

Beyond manufactured sleep, other allergy med side effects may be getting in the way of a good night’s sleep. 

Side effects of allergy medication include: 

  • Headaches 
  • Irritability 
  • Nausea 
  • Dry mouth 
  • Blurred vision 
  • Constipation 
  • Digestive issues 
  • Dizziness 

And allergy meds can even make your symptoms worse. Overusing decongestants can, ironically, increase congestion.

5. Allergies May Cause Sleep Apnea 

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes you to temporarily stop breathing throughout the night. This causes sleep disruption and daytime fatigue, as well as an increased risk of serious health conditions like high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack.

Allergies may cause sleep apnea as the symptoms can restrict your breathing, making it harder to take in enough air, and more likely your brain will wake you up to get the oxygen it needs. 

A meta-analysis found the prevalence of allergic rhinitis was almost 23% in those with sleep-disordered breathing (which includes snoring) and 35% in those with sleep apnea. It was even higher in children with the prevalence of allergic rhinitis being 41% in kids with sleep-disordered breathing and 45% in those with sleep apnea. 

That’s not a coincidence. The paper states 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 having eczema.

Allergies can also cause mouth breathing and snoring, both of which can cause or worsen sleep apnea. 

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

How to Prevent Allergy Fatigue?

Want to avoid experiencing allergy fatigue in the first place? Here’s how you can reduce how much allergens affect you before your head hits the pillow. 

1. Shower Before Bed 

Showering before bed can not only help you drift off to sleep, it can ensure allergens like pollen and pet dander are washed off of your hair and skin and not taken into bed with you. 

To go a step further, remove any clothes and shoes you’ve been wearing around animals, or outside when the pollen count is high, before you enter your bedroom. 

2. Clean Your Bedding and Bedroom Regularly 

Dust mites thrive in warm environments like your bedding, mattress, cushions, rugs, and carpets. Vacuum and dust regularly, and wash your bedding once a week in hot water at 130 degrees Fahrenheit.

Regular cleaning will also help reduce allergy triggers like pollen and pet dander building up in your bedroom. 

Treat any mold as soon as you spot it and keep pets out of your bedroom, or at least out of your bed. 

3. Choose the Right Mattress 

The right mattress isn’t just important for comfort, it can minimize allergens that can build up in your bedroom. 

Opt for a mattress that’s made from hypoallergenic materials. Layers of foam or latex can resist dust mites, mildew, and mold. You can also buy anti-allergy mattress covers that stop dust mites getting into your mattress for extra protection.

We’ve covered more on how to pick the right mattress here.

4. Get an Air Filter 

There’s only so much cleaning you can do. An air filter, like a HEPA filter, can help to remove allergens from the air in your bedroom. 

A dehumidifier can also reduce the moisture in the air, which helps reduce dust mites and mold. 

Beware though, dry air can also cause congestion, which can cause sleep problems and therefore low energy, so don’t remove too much moisture from the air. One meta-analysis states relative humidity should be 40% to 60%. The EPA, meanwhile, recommends between 30% and 50%.

We cover other ways to improve air quality in your bedroom here.

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5. Try Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises can help in a few ways: 

  • They can encourage nasal breathing, which filters out allergens, improves self-reported sleep quality, reduces snoring and sleep apnea, and is better for your overall health and well-being. 
  • They can reduce stress and anxiety, which can help you drift off. 
  • They can help you feel more alert and less sleepy during the day.  
  • They can help to decongest your nose, reducing the need for fatigue-causing allergy meds. 

Here’s a simple decongesting breathing exercise to try: 

  • 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 breathing exercises before bed here that can lower anxiety and promote sleepiness. The RISE app can walk you through diaphragmatic breathing with a two-minute guided session.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to go right to their relaxation audio guide homepage and get started.

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6. Decongest 

As nasal congestion is a key cause of sleep disruption and allergy-related fatigue, focus on decongesting. 

Try: 

  • Using a neti pot with saline solution to flush out your nasal passages.
  • Breathing in steam from a hot shower or holding your head over a bowl of hot water. 
  • Quitting smoking and cutting down on alcohol, both of which cause congestion. Bonus: smoking and alcohol also disrupt your sleep, so quitting or cutting down is a win-win. 
  • Using nasal strips or nasal dilators to open your airways at night. 
  • Trying to sleep with your head elevated as gravity can help drain away congestion.

7. Try Different Allergy Medications 

Switch your allergy medicine to try and find one that doesn’t cause drowsiness. You can also try taking medication in the evening when drowsiness isn’t as much of a problem. 

One thing to be aware of? Nasal congestion runs on a circadian rhythm, or a roughly 24-hour cycle in your body. It’s worse at night and in the early morning. So, taking meds in the evening may help to treat congestion when it’s at its worst. Antihistamine mequitazine, for example, is more effective at treating allergy symptoms when taken in the evening compared to the morning.

More research needs to be done on which medications can help both symptoms and sleepiness in allergy sufferers. 

  • Flunisolide has been shown to improve sleep quality and congestion, but not daytime sleepiness. 
  • Fluticasone propionate can improve congestion and sleep, but no changes were found when sleep was recorded objectively in a sleep study. 
  • Intranasal corticosteroids, which come in drop and spray form, have been linked to improved nasal congestion, sleep, and daytime fatigue. 

There is also some promising research in mice that shows melatonin supplements can reduce allergic asthma. And a small 2021 study found melatonin helped to reduce nasal symptoms, allergy antibody levels, and inflammation in rats with allergic rhinitis from eggs. Studies on humans need to be done, though. 

Over-the-counter medications may help, but allergy shots and allergy immunotherapy (when your immune symptom is retrained) may be needed to reduce symptoms.

We’ve covered more tips on how to sleep with a stuffy nose here and sleeping with allergies here.

How to Get More Energy When You Have Allergies?

Get more energy, even when allergy symptoms strike, with these science-backed tips. The good news? These tips can boost your energy levels whether you’re suffering from allergies or not. 

1. Lower Sleep Debt 

High sleep debt is a major culprit of low energy. We know sleep can be hard to come by when you’re suffering from allergies, but try your best to keep your sleep debt as low as possible. 

Keeping your sleep debt low will also boost your immune system and reduce your odds of developing new allergies.

We recommend keeping sleep debt below five hours to maximize your energy levels each day. 

Got more than that? You can pay it by: 

  • Taking naps: As nasal congestion can get worse at night, you might find it easier to get some shut-eye during the day. Check RISE for the best time to nap to stop it from disrupting your nighttime sleep.  
  • Going to bed a little earlier. 
  • Sleeping in a little later: Keep this to an hour or two to avoid messing up your circadian rhythm (more on that next). 
  • Improving your sleep hygiene: Good sleep hygiene will help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often during the night, getting more sleep overall. More on what to do soon.

The RISE app can work out how much sleep debt you have. Keep an eye on it every day, especially when allergies strike, to keep energy levels as high as possible. 

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

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2. Get in Sync with Your Circadian Rhythm 

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

Your circadian rhythm is your body’s roughly 24-hour internal biological clock. It dictates your sleep-wake cycle, body temperature fluctuations, and hormone production — amongst other things.

When you’re out of sync with it, your energy levels will take a hit, as will your mental and physical health. You might be out of sync because of shift work, voluntarily sleeping at odd times, or because allergies are messing up your sleep schedule. 

You can get in sync by: 

  • Keeping a consistent sleep schedule: Aim to wake up and go to sleep at roughly the same times, even on your days off. 
  • Eating meals at roughly the same times and during the day: Eating can change the timing of your circadian rhythm, and eating too close to bedtime can keep you up. Eating can also cause congestion. Stomach juices can come into your sinuses, nose, ears, and mouth, causing inflammation and making good sleep even harder.
  • Going to bed during your Melatonin Window: Your melatonin window is what we call the roughly one-hour window of time when your body’s rate of melatonin production is at its highest. As melatonin is your body’s natural sleep hormone, going to bed during this window can help you fall and stay asleep.

To help you stay in sync, the RISE app predicts your circadian rhythm each day based on factors like your inferred light exposure and last night’s sleep times. You’ll see when your body naturally wants to wake up, wind down for bed, and go to sleep, so you can match your daily life to it. 

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

3. Improve Your Sleep Hygiene

RISE app screenshot showing when to get and avoid bright light
The RISE app can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene behaviors.

Good sleep hygiene will help you fall and stay asleep. When allergies strike, pay extra attention to your sleep hygiene to ensure nothing else gets in the way of a good night’s rest. 

Here’s what to do: 

  • Get bright light first thing: Light in the morning resets your circadian rhythm, making sure you feel sleepy come bedtime. Aim for at least 10 minutes of light as soon as possible after waking up or 15 to 20 minutes if it's overcast or you’re getting light through a window. If you suffer from seasonal allergies, heading outside in the morning when the pollen count is high can make your symptoms worse. But morning light is key to good sleep, so try getting light through a window or from a light box if you skip going outside in the mornings. 
  • Avoid light close to bedtime: Avoid light in the evenings as it suppresses melatonin production. Dim the lights and put on blue-light blocking glasses about 90 minutes before bed. 
  • Avoid caffeine, large meals, intense exercise, and alcohol too late in the day: All four can keep you up or wake you up during the night. RISE can tell you when to avoid each one.  
  • Do a calming bedtime routine: This is especially useful if anxiety around allergies (or the lost sleep they can cause) is keeping you up. Try reading, listening to music, journaling, or doing yoga before bed. RISE can walk you through relaxation techniques for better sleep.
  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet: Aim for 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit (set your thermostat if you close your windows when the pollen count is high), use blackout curtains, and wear earplugs and an eye mask

The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day and tell you the ideal time to do each one to make them more effective.

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

4. Try Quick Energy Boosts 

We recommend focusing on the big things that affect your energy levels — that is low sleep debt and being in sync with your circadian rhythm. But when you need a quick hit of energy to get you through a sniffly day, there are some energy boosts you can turn to. 

Try these short-term energy boosters: 

  • Get natural sunlight: As well as resetting your circadian rhythm when you get it in the morning, sunlight promotes the feel-good chemical serotonin and the hormone cortisol, which makes you feel alert. Just be aware again that if you’re allergic to pollen and the count is high, heading outside could trigger allergy symptoms.
  • Get a caffeine hit: Check RISE to make sure it’s not too late in the day for coffee first.
  • Work out: Even a 10-minute walk can boost energy levels more than a sugary snack. And exercising during the day can help you fall asleep at night.
  • Take a nap: Napping can help reduce sleep debt and boost your energy levels that same day. Aim for a 10-minute power nap to avoid grogginess.
  • Drink a glass of water: Even mild dehydration can cause fatigue. Bonus: staying hydrated will help flush out congestion to help you breathe easier at night. 

We’ve covered more ways to wake yourself up here.

5. Speak to a Doctor 

Allergy fatigue isn’t just an annoying symptom. It affects your quality of life, and sleep loss increases your risk of everything from obesity to mental health conditions, diabetes to heart attacks. 

Speak to your healthcare provider or an allergist who can run allergy tests to find out what exactly you’re allergic to and recommend the best treatment plan for you.

Allergy treatments include shots, nasal sprays, non-drowsy pills, and allergy immunotherapy. 

A doctor can also rule out other reasons you could be tired, like a sleep disorder, nutritional deficiency, or underlying medical condition that could be affecting your overall health and wellness. 

Beat Allergy Fatigue 

Allergies can make you tired as the symptoms can easily disrupt your sleep, exhaust your immune system, and allergy meds often come with drowsiness as a side effect. 

To reduce allergy fatigue, try showering before bed, cleaning your bedroom and bedding regularly, and using an air filter to reduce airborne allergens. 

To boost your energy levels long term, focus on lowering your sleep debt and getting in sync with your circadian rhythm. Maintaining good sleep hygiene can help make this happen, so beware of any allergy-fighting tips (like avoiding going outside in the morning) that might inadvertently make your sleep worse.

The RISE app can help by working out how much sleep debt you have, predicting your circadian rhythm each day, and reminding you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits. 

A win-win to all of this? Getting the sleep you need at night will not only give you the energy you want each day, it’ll help reduce your odds of developing new allergy symptoms, too. 

Summary FAQs

Can allergies make you tired?

Yes, allergies can make you tired. Allergy symptoms like sneezing and nasal congestion can disrupt your sleep and cause sleep apnea, your body’s immune response to allergens can tire you out, and allergy meds can cause drowsiness.

What does allergy fatigue feel like?

Allergy fatigue can feel different for everyone. You may feel drowsy, hazy, and brain foggy. If allergies are stopping you from getting enough sleep at night you might also experience physical fatigue, irritability, impaired mental performance, and low energy.

How do you fix fatigue from allergies?

Fix fatigue from allergies by getting tested to see what you’re allergic to; reducing your exposure to allergens by showering before bed, washing your bedding regularly, and using an air filter; and finding allergy medication that doesn’t make you feel drowsy. Lowering your sleep debt and getting in sync with your circadian rhythm will boost your energy long term.

Natural remedies for allergy fatigue

Natural remedies for allergy fatigue include reducing your exposure to allergens by showering before bed, washing your bedding regularly, and using an air filter. Lowering your sleep debt and getting in sync with your circadian rhythm will boost your energy long term.

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