What do insomnia and allergies have in common? It might not seem like the two would be related, but I became curious and began looking into it when I noticed that the nights I would wake up at 3 AM unable to fall back asleep, my nose was more congested. It turns out there’s likely a connection. Hopefully my curiosity will help you too!
My Story with Insomnia & Allergies
Before 2017, I was a GREAT sleeper and my only experience with allergies was occasional seasonal ones in high school. That all changed in 2017 (a rough year for me and my health) when I developed chronic daily “allergies”. I suspect it had something to do with chronic yeast infections and needing three rounds of antibiotics that year. Oh yeah, and mold and stress and change and iron deficiency.
It took a few years to get a diagnosis of “allergies”, but I was waking up with a stuffy nose every morning. Around the same time the nasal congestion began, I also developed insomnia that seemed to come out of nowhere and made me feel wide awake at 3 AM.
Fast forward a few years (woah, actually it’s been FIVE whole years) of experimenting with various remedies and observing patterns. On the nights that I wake up around 3 AM and can’t get back to sleep, my nose is more stuffy. Then when I take something that decreases the stuffy nose pretty immediately (such as Allegra or Sinatrol), I fall back asleep much more easily.
Now, enough of my story. Let’s see what the experts have to say.
Insomnia impacts about one-third of adults in the US (source). Women experience it more than men and older people more than younger ones.
There are many causes of insomnia, but in this post, I’m going to focus specifically on how it relates to allergies and histamine.
Research on The Allergy-Insomnia Connection
First, I found this book which mentions that certain antihistamine medications (which are commonly prescribed for allergies) have a secondary use: insomnia! The antihistamine medication I take sometimes (Allegra) is supposed to be non-drowsy, but for me, it has a desirable effect of putting me back to sleep if I take it at during the 3 AM insomnia onset.
Then there’s this cool graphic about factors that influence insomnia and it mentions that histamine is sleep suppressing rather than sleep promoting (a.k.a. having higher histamine levels could make it harder for you to sleep). In the same article, there’s a diagram that mentions allergic rhinitis (allergies) being associated with chronic insomnia. It suggests that insomnia may increase the risk of allergies, but I would guess it goes the other way too.
But don’t just take my word for it. This review article mentions that substances produced in the body in response to allergens (like histamine, cytokines, leukotrienes, and prostaglandins) may be directly involved in regulating sleep.
I also came across this observational study, which mentions that poor sleep has an association with allergies to dust mites. And this paper that also found a relationship between allergies and poor sleep, as well as sleep apnea, snoring, and morning headaches.
After exploring the studies and articles related to sleep and allergies, it’s clear to me I’m not the first one to notice a connection. But since it wasn’t mentioned to me by any medical practitioner I saw for either condition, I figured you might not know either and find it interesting. I’d love to hear your story and thoughts in the comments!
How to Find Relief
So what can you do with this information? Well, if you notice this connection too, I recommend mentioning it to your trusted healthcare provider.
If you’d like to explore the conventional medicine approach (including allergy shots), consider working with an allergist. It’s the route more likely to be covered by insurance, unless you live in a more liberal state with naturopath-friendly laws. Personally, allergy shots didn’t work for me, but when I did a poll on Instagram, about one-third to half of those who answered mentioned allergy shots helped them.
If you prefer a more holistic route that looks at overall health, I’d suggest working with a naturopath. Working with alternative medicine providers is my personal preference, but I’m biased based on my negative experiences with the conventional medical model and the conditions I’ve been able to overcome by working with naturopaths and other holistic care providers.
While I have yet to find a solution to make my allergies disappear completely, they have gotten better with time. It’s hard to say what exactly has helped, but here are some things that seem to make a difference for me:
- Allegra (available over-the-counter at most drug stores) – I dislike some of the ingredients in this medication and was very against taking it at first (especially ongoing), but it is very effective for reducing my symptoms and I notice it improves my digestion too. So I save it for the highest pollen/symptom days or when I know I’ll be outside for an extended amount of time.
- Sinatrol – a supplement with a variety of herbs and NAC that is intended for respiratory relief (I believe sinus infections specifically based on the formulation). It does contain licorice root, which can elevate blood pressure especially if that’s already something you struggle with, so this is an example of why even with supplements, it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider.
- Plantiva AllerDx
- Showering off the pollen before bed
- Vital Nutrients Sleep Aide – intended for insomnia, but I think some of the herbs may also have antihistamine properties – I take it when I wake up at 3 AM from insomnia, but only if I can sleep for at least 3 more hours because it causes drowsiness.
- Neti pot (I don’t like the sensation, but it does help so usually it only makes its way out on heavy pollen days)
- Megasporebiotic (a spore-based probiotic by Microbiome Labs) – I take it nightly because it helps keep my digestion running smoothly and I’ve also noticed my nose less stuffy
- More and more time passing since last needing antibiotics (no more chronic UTIs for this gal, yay!)
- Beef liver capsules – they give me energy and do show a boost to my iron storage levels, though I’m still trying to get them all the way normalized
- Limiting exposure to plastics, fragrances, and other chemicals that increase estrogen levels. My allergies and insomnia are consistently worse in the week or so leading up to my period each month. Talking with other people, it’s not just me. That’s likely because there’s a link between hormones and histamine (learn more about that here).
- Eating a diet rich in seasonal, fresh produce in a rainbow of colors.
- Aiming for balanced meals that include protein (including beans/legumes), complex carbs (whole grains and starchy vegetables), healthy fats (nuts/seeds, avocado, olive oil), veggies, and fruits. Not the easiest to do in the modern world, but my husband and I both value nutrition and trade off cooking nights to make it easier. Also, homemade freezer meals – do it.
- I avoid dairy products (except butter) because they give me an immediate mucus feeling in my throat. I’ve mostly avoided them for about 10 years now, but I’ve tried to re-introduce a few times and my allergy symptoms are noticeably worse.
- I enjoy sweet treats a couple times per week, but mostly stick to ones with less added sugar and don’t eat 10 cookies in 2 days like I did in college because my stuffy nose is worse when I’m consistently eating sweets.
- Oh, and I’m gluten-free, but don’t know if that helps with my allergies specifically, but other people report it does for them. I’ve been gluten-free for 10 years. Even tiny amounts make me symptomatic so I haven’t been willing to venture into eating larger amounts because I have the genetics for celiac disease and many of the symptoms.
If you’re new to holistic wellness, this may seem like a lot. For me, these changes have been 10 years in the making. Don’t feel overwhelmed – just try 1 small change for your health that you can be consistent with (after making sure it’s a safe option for you by talking with your healthcare provider) and when it becomes a normal part of your routine, try adding another.
Wishing you good health and happiness! Let me know if you have questions.