Sleep is notoriously difficult during eczema flares. Itching tends to intensify at night, often leading to a no-win itch-scratch cycle. In fact, lack of sleep is a huge quality-of-life issue for people with eczema. It makes it difficult to focus adequately on work or school tasks, and it worsens stress–which is, itself, an eczema trigger.
What, then, is the solution?
Strategies For Better Sleep
While there’s no bullet-proof way to end sleepless nights, there are some strategies to improve your odds for a good night’s rest. Your solution will be unique to you, based upon your individual needs. It could include environmental changes, supportive self-care, and medication–or it could include a combination of these things.
Make Your Environment Conducive to Rest
Assessing your environment is a good first step in designing your own strategy for better sleep. There are multiple environmental factors that can complicate eczema at night. This includes presences of triggers, temperature, and humidity.
Take stock of your bedroom. Tweaking one (or all) of these factors may help you rest easier at night.
If you have a pet, consider banishing them from your bedroom at night. Damp-dust regularly, and put zipping covers on your pillows beneath your pillowcase. Mattress pads can keep your mattress free of dust mites. Launder bedding weekly.
Heating and cooling ducts should be cleaned seasonally. Filters for air conditioners or HVAC units must be cleaned or replaced more often–weekly or monthly, depending on the filter.
Look in closets, climate-control vents, and around windows for mold growth. Any mold found should be removed appropriately; there are hundreds of thousands of mold species, and not all of them are removed the same way. Address sources of excess moisture, such as plumbing or roof leaks.
Some studies suggest that eczema sufferers benefit from using air purifiers with HEPA filters. If you decide to go this route, look for purifiers that address fine particulate matter, molds and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Clean HEPA filters regularly and monitor for mold growth.
Dehumidifiers help cut down on moisture in overly humid rooms. Humidifiers, meanwhile, add moisture to dry air. Since humidity changes seasonally, you might need each at different times of the year. If using either a humidifier or a dehumidifier, make sure that it's clean and free of mold growth.
Dehumidifiers usually have a moisture receptacle that should be emptied and cleaned regularly. Humidifiers should be used with distilled water, and the water shouldn’t be allowed to sit in the appliance when not in use. Take the humidifier apart to clean it and inspect for mold regularly.
Supportive Self-care for Bedtime
Once you’ve addressed your sleeping environment, take a look at your self-care routines–especially those centered around bedtime.
It’s easy to stay up late working or studying through the week, only to crash on the weekends and sleep for hours. This doesn’t give your body a chance to adjust its rhythm.
This is a hard pattern to break. One way you can support a more regular bedtime is by choosing a time every morning by which you must be up–even if you stayed up late the night before.
If you do shift work, make sure that you minimize disruptions to your sleep. Block out all light in your room: use room-darkening curtains and turn off all screens. Post signs on your door to deter knocks from unexpected guests. On your off days, try to maintain your usual sleep/wake pattern.
Two hours before bedtime, start slowing down. Dim the lights, turn off screens, and put down any unfinished work.
Avoid eating and drinking right before bedtime and limit alcoholic beverages right before bed. While alcohol can make you feel drowsy, it disrupts the sleep cycle, leading to shallow sleep and frequent waking. Moreover, it dehydrates the body, and you probably don’t need to be told how bad that is for eczema.
Dress for the occasion. Opt for soft, breathable fabrics with a loose, comfortable fit when you’re picking out your PJ’s or night dress. Lightweight cottons, silk, and tencel (this includes rayon, viscose, bamboo, and modal) fabrics are your best options. Make sure they wick moisture, especially on warm nights.
You might want to think about accessorizing with some gloves. Often sold as “eczema gloves,” plain white, cotton gloves have become a popular tool for people dealing with eczema at nighttime.
When used with moisturizer or ointments, eczema gloves lock moisture into the skin more completely. They also create a barrier between itchy skin and eager fingernails.
The ideal gloves are made of thin, breathable white cotton. They can often be bought in bulk at a discount. Medical supply shops are a good place to look for these gloves. Online stores geared around allergy and eczema prevention are also possibilities.
Do not use fashion gloves; these are usually too thick to allow your skin to breathe. Don’t use gloves made of artificial fibers like polyester. Don’t use nitrile or latex gloves.
Once you find the right gloves, make sure that you wear them over clean, well-moisturized skin. Apply lotion or ointment to damp hands. When they’ve dried, pull the gloves on.
Eczema gloves are not for everyone. A Swedish study found a correlation between gloves and higher populations of staph on the skin of the hands. Avoid this if you’re dealing with infective eczema, and if you’ve had staph infections in the past, ask your doctor before using.
Gloves require frequent washing and replacement. Allow your gloves to air after you remove them to decrease the likelihood of mold growth.
After taking the warm, soothing bath we recommended before, gently pat yourself dry and apply lotion. Use heavier ointments on eczema rashes.
You may want to try wet wrapping if your eczema is flaring badly. This involves applying a damp cloth or bandage to your skin right after moisturizing and wrapping it to keep the maximum moisture in.
To wet wrap, apply moisturizer and eczema medication. Dampen a clean cloth or a bandage with warm water, then wrap it around the affected area. Cover this with clothing or another set of wraps. This is an excellent use for eczema gloves!
Limit wet wrapping to a two-week period, using them only a few days per week. While wet wrapping is a great way to hydrate parched, itchy skin, it can cause the skin to break down if used excessively.
Consider Pharmaceutical Solutions
If self-care and environmental changes aren’t helping, you may want to ask your doctor about sleep aids. These can include melatonin, antihistamines, anxiety medications, or prescription sleep medication. You should approach these medications with care, and always under your doctor’s guidance.
A Complete Strategy
If eczema is affecting the quality of your sleep, look at the problem from multiple angles–environmental, self-care, and pharmaceutical. You should also be sure that your eczema treatment plan is working for you.
You can experience break-through symptoms with the very best treatments, and these symptoms tend to worsen at night. HarlanMD’s SmartLotionⓇ steps up to help you overcome these break-through symptoms.
Formulated by board-certified dermatologist Dr. Steve Harlan, SmartLotionⓇ is a highly-effective steroid cream. It does not cause skin atrophy and topical steroid withdrawal when used properly. Most people can safely add SmartLotionⓇ to their existing prescriptions under their doctor’s supervision to address break-through symptoms.
SmartLotionⓇ eczema cream has a prebiotic formula that promotes a healthy microbiome. It helps your skin barrier heal as it takes care of inflammation.
HarlanMD has recently launched another powerful skincare product. HarlanMD Perfect Repair™ moisturizing cream is loaded with natural ceramides, healing coconut oil, and hydrating glycerin. Perfect Repair™ can be used along with wet wrapping and gloves to seal in moisture.
Have a Good Night
Sleep is vital to both mental and physical health. Our mood, vitality, and focus all suffer when eczema interferes with rest.
You owe it to yourself to address eczema-related insomnia in a complete and timely way. That means creating an environment conducive for sleep, practicing good sleep hygiene, and faithfully practicing beneficial self-care. Sleep aids can also help.
Don’t forget that SmartLotionⓇ and Perfect Repair™ are available to help your skin heal and to get you through your flares more comfortably.