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The Winter Itch

With the changing of the seasons comes drier, thinner air and cooler temperatures that wreak havoc on your dry skin. Whether you suffer from eczema, dermatitis, or just plain old itchy skin, the pain and discomfort can make bedtime your least favorite time of the day. It is normal to experience itching throughout your regular work, but for most people, nighttime is the worst time for dry, itchy skin. With that being said, bedtime can also be one of the most effective times to take action to soothe your skin.

Common reasons for nighttime scratching include eczema, allergic dermatitis and dry skin. While each of these is different, the suffering is all the same.

  • Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is noticeably marked by occasional bouts of red, itchy skin
  • Allergic contact dermatitis is a condition that also makes your skin red and itchy, but it can be chronic and create discolored patches and bumps on your skin.

While these two are extremely common, some people do not necessarily suffer from a specific condition; they just suffer from periodic or seasonal dry skin. No matter the cause, there are some things you can do to minimize the dryness and itchiness to find the comfort and relief you need to sleep soundly each night. 

Why Nighttime Matters For Dry, Itchy Skin

Your Skin May Just Be Itchier At Night

For many people, their skin is just itchier at night, but that is perfectly normal. According to Healthline, “Your body’s natural circadian rhythms, or daily cycles, influence skin functions like temperature regulation, fluid balance, and barrier protection.”

This changes when the sun goes down, and the body prepares for rest. Your body’s temperature naturally increases, and you lose more water. This causes increased blood flow to the skin, which can create irritation. 

Another contributing factor is your body’s changing chemical balance. At night, the body naturally loses the corticosteroids that prevent inflammation. At the same time, there is an increase in cytokines, which cause inflammation. This imbalance can quickly equate to dry, itchy skin, and when there is little to distract you at night, the itchiness can quickly become unbearable.

Bedtime May Be The Only Time Your Skin Gets a Break

Dry, itchy skin is already a problem for many Americans each night, but coronavirus has made it significantly worse. To protect yourself from COVID-19, you must constantly wash and disinfect your hands with harsh products. Though that’s excellent for your immune system, it’s not so great for your skin. 

These days, bedtime can be the only time that our skin is allowed a chance to breathe and heal.

Itching At Night And Pain From Broken Skin Can Interrupt Your Sleep

While your skin heals, it can make for a pretty unbearable night for many sufferers. Constant itchiness can wake you up at night, leading to broken, interrupted sleep or no sleep at all in more extreme cases.

For some, it is not about the discomfort and the annoyance of the itching. It can become extremely painful, too, with agitated, broken patches of skin that are painful to the touch.

Broken Skin Can Be Infected By Contaminants In Your Bedroom

When you suffer from dry, itchy skin, there are certain everyday contaminants that can make your condition that much worse. 

Contaminant SourceWhat it DoesHow to Address It
Dirty SheetsWe spend a hefty portion of our lives in bed, one-third to be exact, so there is plenty of time for contaminants, bacteria and skin cells to accumulate on your sheets. According to WebMD, we shed 500 million skin cells each day. Those dead cells attract dust mites, which can exacerbate dryness and itchiness. Be diligent about washing your sheets weekly using hot water. Tide suggests using the hottest water temperature setting listed on the care label to kill germs.
Pet DanderMany people share their beds with a pet, and while the extra cuddles may help you sleep, pet dander and hair can actually irritate your skin that much more. Dust mites also favor pet hair, and you can become susceptible to other conditions that can çreate other health issues, such as ringworm.Regularly wash your sheets with hot water, and consider using a detergent specially designed to remove allergens at any wash temperature.
Body GermsStudies show that there are 17,000 more different colonies of bacteria on a pillowcase that hasn’t been washed in a week compared to the average toilet seat. In addition to dead skin cells and pet dander, there are other body germs that can turn your bed into what WedMD calls a “petri dish.” Sweat and saliva are just two examples of body germs that can live on your sheets and become a severe irritant to your skin each night.Consider bathing before you go to bed instead of in the morning. Even washing your face before bed can remove some of that bacteria each night.

Tips to Harness the Bedtime to Heal the Skin

Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize

Moisturizers have proven to be an invaluable help to dry and itchy skin, and nighttime is the best time for application because these nutrients have more time to fully soak into your skin. 

When looking for a moisturizer, try to find a nourishing, fragrance-free product that contains natural plant oils, such as jojoba, safflower and sunflower. These have all been shown to replace moisture and provide relief to irritated and inflamed skin. Take caution to avoid essential oils, which can cause more damage than good and dry out your skin. Experts advise that you avoid products that contain ingredients like essential oils, menthol and eucalyptus, as each of these can severely dry out and inflame your skin, making your situation that much worse. 

Let’s be honest, people with dry skin are no stranger to moisturizer. If you’re still suffering after putting lotion on each night, consider an in-shower wet moisturizer to lock in more water like Eucerin In-Shower Body Lotion. Coconut oil can also act as a sealant in a similar way, use it over wet skin or on top of another moisturizer to boost your routine. The Cut also recommends looking for creams like CeraVe that contain ceramides which acts as glue to hold together skin cells.

Create an Anti-Anxiety Bedtime Routine

When you are nervous, your skin can become irritated in response. More than 40 million Americans suffer from some form of anxiety disorder, and it has been proven that those who suffer from anxiety disorders are more prone to dry, itchy skin. In the age of COVID-19 and so much uncertainty, this is more of a concern for most of us than ever before.

These are some ways you can help quiet those nerves by adopting an anti-anxiety bedtime routine.

  1. Do nighttime exercises.

There are some stretches that you can do before bed to stretch your limbs and prepare your body for bed. Yoga and meditation have been enormously helpful in preparing the mind and body for sound sleep.

  1. Take a quick walk.

Some light exercise before bed is always a great way to clear the mind and wear the body out for deep sleep. Before you settle in for bed, take a brisk walk around the neighborhood.

  1. Massage your limbs. 

Use a foam roller or your own hands to gently massage your arms and legs before bed. This will help alleviate some of the tightness in your skin and soothe any residual itching before bed.

  1. Take a skin-friendly bath or shower.

Before you climb into bed, build time into your bedtime routine for a warm bath or shower. This is an opportunity to rid the skin of any extra irritants before you slip between the sheets. Just be sure to avoid extremely hot water and use fragrance-free products that can add irritation instead of curing it.  

Colloidal oatmeal and baking soda baths have both proven very helpful in combating dryness and eczema; just be sure to apply your moisturizer within three minutes of your bath or shower so you can seal water and moisture into the skin.

Create a Skin-Friendly Environment

Heat and sweat can worsen dryness, itchiness and eczema, making your nights completely unbearable. Try to combat this by lowering the temperature in your bedroom and using a fan to keep temperatures low. Moisture-wicking clothing can also move sweat away from the skin before it causes further irritation. While you can buy special moisture-wicking pajamas, inexpensive workout clothes from discount retailers will do the trick to keep you dry. Just make sure they don’t contain cotton, opt for polyester, spandex, wool, and other tech fabrics.

Prevent Nighttime Scratching

One of the worst parts about nighttime itching is the lack of control. Many people find themselves awakened by itching in their sleep, and it can be difficult to prevent. It may help to keep your nails short and trimmed so you don’t scratch and hurt yourself in your sleep. Also consider wearing moisturizing gloves to bed, which will keep your fingernails from being able to break your skin and also allow for extra moisturizing at night. If your skin is affected on your legs or arms, protect them by covering them with closer-fitting clothes.

Adults may also try a weighted blanket or Sleep Pod, which may help keep movement to a minimum while you sleep.

Check Your Water Balance

  1. Drink enough water.

Water is your best defense against itchiness and dry skin, and has been especially proven to combat dryness and itchiness. Its benefits are twofold: it flushes out toxins while providing hydration. Try to replace caffeine and alcohol with water wherever possible. If you’re not a fan of water by itself, add lemon or lime slices to your tea, try herbal tea or drink a mug of warm water as part of their evening wind-down routine. Herbal tea or lemon water can similarly help their bodies stay hydrated at night.

2. Avoid a dehydrating diet.

Avoid caffeine and alcohol wherever possible, as these both significantly dry out your skin. To prevent unnecessary dryness, eliminate these from your diet and replace them with healthier alternatives or drinking extra water if you’ve had an especially dehydrating evening. Keep in mind that sugar is as dehydrating as salt on a cellular level, so either can impact your skin’s water balance.

3. Consider a humidifier

A humidifier can help you keep the air from becoming too dry or thin. Installing a humidifier in your bedroom can add more moisture to the air in your bedroom, giving your skin the extra care it needs so you can find better sleep.

Nix Irritants From Your Routine

Allergens find a home in your bed linens, burrowing into the fibers where they make a home. You can help prevent this by washing your sheets and pillowcases at least once a week. Use hot water to kill off any lingering bacteria and germs, and use fragrance-free detergents and soap to avoid added irritants. When you purchase new bed linens or sleepwear, be sure to wash them as well before exposing them to the rest of your bed. You may also want to consider an allergen-friendly mattress.

Final Thoughts

Nighttime scratching and itchiness can make bedtime your most dreaded time of the day, but hope is not lost. To combat skin irritants, there are some things you can do to alleviate nighttime itching and ensure a more restful sleep. If you experience prolonged or more severe skin conditions, you should seek the advice of a licensed medical provider who can provide a more detailed treatment plan.  For many, however, nighttime itching can be cured by adopting a few minor changes to your everyday routine.