It might not feel like spring quite yet in some parts of the country, but as warmer weather approaches, blooming flowers and endless loads of allergy-inducing pollen will be here in the blink of a (red, watery) eye.
Of course, if you already suffer from seasonal allergies, you know that the itching, sneezing, stuffiness and general discomfort don't stop at bedtime. Like a cold or the flu, allergies can make quality shut-eye much harder to achieve. In fact, more than one-third of allergy sufferers say that their symptoms impact their sleep, according to a recent survey by allergen barrier bedding company AllerEase.
When you throw sleep deprivation on top of some already unpleasant symptoms, you're practically guaranteed to feel less than optimal for the next few months. The good news is that with a little bit of effort, you can turn your bedroom into an allergen-free zone -- and get more of the symptom-free rest you crave. Here's how.
1. Keep your indoor air clean.
Staying indoors is a great way to escape pollen. Unless the air inside your home is dirty, too -- and for most of us, that's usually the case. Household dust, pet hair and dander, and allergens tracked in from outside can contribute to allergies in the house.
To keep your indoor air as clean as possible, use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your bedroom, and make sure the windows are shut to keep any new gunk from floating in. If you have forced air conditioning or heating, use high-efficiency filters to keep them from blowing dust everywhere.
Regularly inspect window and door seals if outdoor allergens are a problem, and if you suspect mold anywhere in your home, contact a certified contractor or mold removal technician. Air-purifying plants like aloe or English ivy, which breathe in toxins and breathe out fresh oxygen, can help improve indoor air quality, too.
2. Crank up the dehumidifier.
Warm, moist air is a breeding ground for allergy-triggering mold, mildew, dust mites, and bacteria. According to the U.S. Enviromental Protection Agency, ideal indoor humidity is between 30 percent and 50 percent. In rainy and humid environments, keeping a dehumidifier in your bedroom helps suck out some of the moisture so it's harder for allergens and mold to grow.
Of course, arid climates and too-dry conditions can contribute to sore throats, itchy skin and itchy eyes, even raising risk of sinus infections. A cool mist or ultrasonic humidifier can help balance conditions out when the air gets too dry.
3. Keep your sheets squeaky clean.
Washing your bed sheets regularly is key to sleeping well during allergy season, yet most people only get around to stripping the bed every 10 to 14 days. According to experts, that isn't frequently enough to keep your sheets relatively free from the dust, pollen, dead skin, and God-knows-what-else that's making you sneeze.
Instead, aim to launder your sheets at least once a week. And to make sure they're really decontaminated, always wash them with the hottest water possible. Same goes for fabric curtains. For upholstered furniture and carpet, vacuuming once weekly or more is also important.
4. Consider anti-allergy bedding.
Regularly washing your blankets, sheets, and pillowcases helps keep surface-level allergens out of your bed -- and out of your respiratory system. But even with frequent laundering, gunk can still make its way into your mattress, where it's almost impossible to get out.
Anti-allergy bedding uses technologically advanced fabrics that stop the pollen, dust, and dirt from creeping into your mattress, resulting in less nighttime irritation. It's also wise to skip feathers and wool that can't be regularly laundered, since they can harbor more dust than synthetic fibers.
5. Give Fido the nighttime boot.
You probably work hard all day to keep your allergies from flaring up. But in the time it takes for Fluffy to hop into your bed, all of your anti-allergy effort goes out the window.
Because their thick fur is a veritable magnet for stuff like pollen, dirt, and dust, dogs and cats are basically walking allergen fur balls. (Indoor cats are still major sources of dander, so they're not immune to the problem, either.) So do yourself a favor and keep all animals out of the bedroom during allergy season. (If they need help getting used to the idea, try these tricks.)
6. Shower at night instead of in the morning.
By the end of the day, your hair, skin, and clothes are covered in an invisible layer of pollen and dust from time spent outside. And those allergens are irritating the heck out of your eyes, nasal passages, and lungs.
Shower at night and slip into fresh clothing, and you wash all that stuff down the drain so it doesn't end up in your bed. And since the steam from the hot water will help to ease nasal stuffiness (try adding some eucalyptus oil for extra decongestion power), it's really a win-win.
7. Skip the nightcap.
You've probably heard that booze can lead to fragmented sleep, but that's not the only reason you should consider abstaining before bed. Research has shown that alcohol can make common hay fever symptoms like sneezing, itching, and coughing even more uncomfortable, particularly for women. Skip the drink, and you'll sleep -- and breathe -- easier.
8. But not your nighttime meds.
If you take short-acting allergy medications (read: not the 24-hour kind) in the morning, their effects have probably worn off by the time you're getting ready for bed. Forget to take another dose, though, and you're likely in for a night of sleep-stealing sniffles. Have a hard time keeping track of when it's time to take your pills? The free Dosecast app is an easy way to remember to take your meds on time, every time.
9. Know when it's time for a new mattress and pillows.
The older your mattress and pillows get, the more dust, skin cells, sweat, and body oils get trapped inside of them -- especially if you haven't been using a mattress protector.
If you're one of the 20 million Americans who are allergic to the dust mites that love to feed on dead skin, you could be making your allergies a whole lot worse with outdated sleep surfaces. Experts recommend replacing your pillows around every six months, while a mattress will usually last 5 to 10 years depending on type and quality.
The bedroom is where most people spend the majority of time at home, so for allergy sufferers it is worth the effort to make sure it's a sleep sanctuary rather than an allergy asylum. By paying attention to indoor air and surfaces and taking measures to reduce allergens from intruding on your slumber, you can minimize symptoms and help yourself sleep a little better this allergy season.
How do allergies affect your sleep, or what do you do to sleep better when they strike? Share in the comments.
Firas Kittaneh is the CEO of Amerisleep, an eco-friendly luxury mattress company. Firas writes more posts on the Amerisleep blog about getting better sleep, healthy living and being eco-friendly. Follow him on Twitter.