Did you ever felt a prickly sensation on your skin right after you dozed off? You may feel it is a rash or an insect bite, but you do not find anything on your skin! No, it is not your imagination. This condition is called nocturnal pruritis.
Factors like fluctuations in body temperature and the circadian rhythm and dermatological conditions may cause itchy skin at night. While you may get itchy skin any time during the body’s natural sleep or wake cycle, it is most likely to happen while you are asleep. This article explores the reasons behind it and what you can do to manage nocturnal pruritis. Read on.
Table Of Contents
Causes Of Itchy Skin At Night
You may experience nocturnal itchiness due to natural, environmental, and underlying health-related factors.
Natural Causes Of Itchiness At Night
1. Thermoregulatory Variations
Fluctuation in the body’s natural temperature rhythm may cause nighttime itchiness (1). The body temperature is regulated by the circadian rhythm of your body (a process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle). The core temperature is maximum during the early evening and minimal during the early morning. The temperature also fluctuates as per the sleep stages. The itch intensity rises with increasing body temperature.
2. Transepidermal Water Loss
The skin barrier function alters while you are asleep, causing itchiness. Your skin loses moisture during sleep. This is also known as transepidermal water loss (TEWL), which impairs the skin barrier function and lets the pruritogens (substances causing itchiness) into your system. This phenomenon is commonly seen in those who have atopic dermatitis (1).
3. Low Corticosteroid Levels
The body produces corticosteroids that help control and suppress inflammatory and allergic responses. However, after evening, the corticosteroid levels decrease in the body, reducing the natural anti-inflammatory response. This may cause itchiness at night (1).
Apart from physiological changes, environmental factors can worsen the condition at night.
Environmental Factors Causing Nighttime Itching
Itchy skin is triggered by exposure to environmental factors like:
- Dust mites
- Pet dander
Sometimes, the chemicals or dyes in your laundry detergents, scented soaps, and skin care products may also cause itchiness and those sudden bumps on the skin. Apart from these, hot showers, air conditioning, and central heating system can dry out the skin and cause itching.
1. Skin Cancer
As frightening as it can sound, itchy skin can sometimes be a sign of cancer. A study at the John Hopkins Health System found that patients with pruritis or itching are most likely to have cancers of the skin, gallbladder, liver, biliary tract, and hematopoietic system (3).
If itching is accompanied by any unusual and persistent skin growth, rash, or sore, see a board-certified dermatologist immediately.
Polycythaemia is a condition in which the body has a high concentration of red blood cells that make the blood thick. As a result, it cannot easily travel through the blood vessels and reach the organs. Patients with this condition often experience itching as they may also have high concentration white blood cells that release histamine (4).
3. Other Conditions
A chronic itch may sometimes indicate other diseases, such as diabetes, kidney disease, HIV, overactive thyroid gland, or liver diseases like obstructed bile duct, hepatitis C, or cirrhosis.
Apart from this, you may get itchy skin at night during pregnancy due to fluctuating hormone levels in your body (5). As women age and approach menopause, problems like sweating, hot flashes, and itchiness may become prevalent.
Consult a dermatologist if you suspect an underlying health condition is causing itchiness. However, if it is just an occasional itch, these remedies may provide relief.
How To Manage Itchy Skin At Night
Here are some ways to soothe itchy skin at night:
- Limit your shower time to 5-10 minutes daily. Ensure to use lukewarm water. Avoid frequent soap application to avoid dryness.
- Apply an unscented moisturizing lotion or cream all over your body every day right after showering.
- If you have a rash or your skin is inflamed and red, consult a dermatologist and use itch-relieving ointments, such as non-prescription corticosteroid cream. Calamine lotion and creams with camphor and menthol may also provide temporary relief.
- Use a humidifier to maintain the moisture level inside your room or home. This will prevent dryness, allergens, irritants, and germs.
- Drink plenty of water as dehydration causes dry skin and may lead to itchiness. Drink at least 8 to 10 glasses of water to keep your skin well-hydrated.
Apart from these few general tips to relieve itching at night, you may also try natural remedies to manage irritation and itch.
Home Remedies To Manage Itchy Skin At Night
1. Take An Oatmeal Bath
Applying colloidal oatmeal (powdered oats) moisturizes the skin, maintains the skin barrier function, and relieves dryness (6). To prepare an oatmeal bath, fill a bathtub with lukewarm water and mix a cup of powdered oatmeal. Soak in this for at least 20 to 30 minutes and rinse your body with water. Do not apply soap.
2. Apply A Cold Compress
A cold compress relieves itching or inflammation and provides temporary relief. It helps slow down the nerve endings and reduces the sensation of itch. You may leave the cold compress or ice pack on for around 10 to 15 minutes or until your itch subsides.
3. Try Baking Soda
Baking soda is another inexpensive remedy to relieve itchy skin and mild to moderate psoriasis (7). The National Eczema Association recommends adding a quarter cup of baking soda to your bath to relieve itching (8). However, do not soak in it for more than 5-10 minutes as it has exfoliating properties. Always follow up with a fragrance-free moisturizing lotion.
4. Try Wet Wrap Therapy
The therapy involves wearing clothing or placing water-soaked gauze on the affected area and covering it with a dry clothing layer. As the water from the clothes or gauze evaporates, it cools the skin down and relieves itching and inflammation.
5. Take An ACV Bath
Anecdotal evidence suggests that apple cider vinegar may effectively ease inflammation and itching. It helps maintain the pH balance of the skin and may relieve itching.
To make an ACV bath, add a cup of apple cider vinegar to five gallons of warm bathwater and soak in it for at least 10 minutes. Rinse thoroughly and pat your skin dry.
While treatments and home remedies can be helpful, there are a few things you should avoid doing if you have itchy skin at night.
What Not To Do To Prevent Itchy Skin At Night
- Do not go to bed wearing tight or uncomfortable clothes that can irritate your skin.
- Avoid consuming alcohol and caffeine before bed. Both can widen your blood vessels, warm up the body, and intensify itching.
- Do not sleep in a warm or muggy room, as overheating can make your body itch. Always keep the temperature in your room at around 60°F to 65°F.
- Do not use scented soaps, creams, and other cosmetics. Synthetic fragrances can irritate the skin.
- Do not scratch the affected area as it may lead to scars, infections, and wounds. Keep your fingernails short to avoid accidental scratches.
You can prevent skin rashes and itching by making a few simple lifestyle changes. Unless it is caused by an underlying condition, follow the tips to prevent nighttime itchiness.
Tips To Prevent Itchy Skin At Night
- Reduce anxiety and stress as they can aggravate symptoms like burning sensation and itching. Try to relax, meditate, or do deep breathing exercises.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep your skin hydrated.
- Get some exercise to improve blood circulation and maintain your endocrine health that balances the hormone levels.
- Include anti-inflammatory foods in your diets, such as berries, fatty fish, and foods rich in vitamins B, C, D, and E.
- Wash your bedcovers, blankets, sheets, and pillowcases regularly to eliminate dust mites and other allergens.
Other Tips For Itch Prevention
If you have any skin condition or experience excessive itching at night,
- Avoid excessive exposure to the sun.
- Try natural nutritional supplements, such as turmeric, zinc, and fish oils, to help relieve itching, dryness, and skin inflammation (9), (10).
However, consult a doctor before taking any supplements and if the condition persists.
When To See A Doctor
If your itching lasts longer than two weeks and does not improve with home treatment, consult a doctor or dermatologist. They may evaluate you for skin disease and other related conditions and ask for medical tests. Based on the diagnosis, the doctor will recommend treatment and medications to relieve your condition.
The Final Take
Managing nocturnal pruritis can be quite a challenge. It disrupts your sleep, affecting your overall health and quality of your life. Ensure that you take care of your skin, moisturize it, and maintain your body’s hydration levels. These simple measures help provide relief and regain a sense of control.
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