Why People with Allergies Have Poorer Sleep

by Dr. Kenny Pang
An itchy, runny or blocked nose can explain why you’re so tired.

If uncomfortable nasal or sinus symptoms are making it hard to fall or stay asleep, it’s not surprising that you’re exhausted and looking for help.

You’re definitely not alone. Sleep problems are common in people with allergic rhinitis (nasal allergy). In Singapore, allergic rhinitis is estimated to affect 24% of the population. Involving inflammation of the skin lining of the nose, eyes, ears, sinuses, and mouth, allergic rhinitis also tends to be aggravated by pollution or haze in the environment, which is common in Southeast Asia.

Allergy symptoms

When allergens enter the nose, they can irritate the nasal passages and bring on symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion (blocked nose), nose itching, redness, watery eyes, ear pressure, and postnasal drip. Throat symptoms include persistent phlegm, recurrent sore throat, and chronic cough. Dark circles around the eyes, besides being an indicator of poor sleep, could also indicate allergy-related nose congestion.

Allergies and Sleep

Many studies have shown that sleep quality is impaired by nasal allergic symptoms, and the degree of impairment is related to the severity of those symptoms. Nasal allergic symptoms not only cause breathing difficulty, but also tend to worsen at night. It also tends to cause mouth breathing, which dries the mouth. For example, your nose lining may swell and cause the nasal passage to narrow, making it difficult for you to breathe.

Simply put, the more severe your nasal allergic symptoms are, the worse your sleep is. Research shows that people with allergic rhinitis are more likely to experience sleep issues such as: 

  • Poor-quality sleep 
  • Snoring 
  • Night-time awakening
  • Difficulties falling asleep 

Sleep problems are linked with fatigue and daytime sleepiness, as well as decreased productivity at work or in school, impaired learning and memory, depressed mood, and, overall, a reduced quality of life. So if you’re wondering if your nasal allergy could be robbing you of your precious sleep and more, the answer is likely yes. 

Allergies, Snoring and Sleep Apnea

Some people with allergic rhinitis may also experience more serious sleep disturbances, including sleep disordered breathing such as obstructive sleep apnea / apnoea (OSA). That allergies may cause or worsen sleep apnea is worrying because obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and even sudden death.

Clinical researchers suggest that allergic rhinitis (nasal allergy) is a risk factor for snoring and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) among children. Furthermore, snoring and other sleep problems are linked with poorer performance in school, lower IQ, and short attention span. 

If you are a parent of a child with allergic rhinitis and worry about its impact on your child’s sleep, watch out for symptoms such as mouth breathing at night, runny nose, blocked nose, choking during sleep, lethargy, poor focus, or hyperactivity.

If you have nasal allergic symptoms, you may wish to speak to your doctor about allergy testing and allergy management.

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