Why Do I Get Itchy When I Lay in Bed?

If you are constantly itchy at night before going to sleep, you may have something called nocturnal pruritus. Around 22% of people have a chronic itching problem, and 90% of those people report having nocturnal pruritus as well. People get itchy at night for a variety of reasons; some are caused by natural causes, while others are a sign of an underlying illness. This article will explore why some people get itchy at night and what can be done about it.

Key takeaways:
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    Nocturnal pruritus, or nighttime pruritus, can be brought on by your body's normal sleep-wake cycle.
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    Nocturnal pruritus may indicate the presence of other medical conditions, such as skin, kidney, and liver issues.
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    Getting itchy at night can interrupt sleep, leading to other health complications.
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    You can take certain measures and do certain things at home to help reduce your nighttime itching.

Causes of itching at night

Nocturnal pruritus is the term for itching before bed at night. For many, it is a common condition that interferes with their ability to sleep at night. While itching in bed is usually associated with pests such as bed bugs, there are other reasons why people itch while they lay in bed. A lack of sleep can lead to a wide range of health problems, so it is important to find the cause of why you are losing sleep.

A person may experience nighttime itching for a number of reasons. While some of the causes are due to natural causes, others are symptoms of other illnesses.

Circadian rhythm

Your body cycles between wake and sleep while you sleep at night. This sleep and wake cycle is called the circadian rhythm. Throughout the different stages, your body naturally goes through processes to help it rest and heal from your hard days of work.

Your body attempts to naturally cool down during the sleep cycle, which generates heat that escapes through your skin and can make you itchy. During this process, you also lose water, which causes dry skin and itching.

Your body also releases hormones, including cytokines, during this cycle. Cytokines are a part of the immune system and are released in higher quantities at night to allow you to heal. Cytokines, though, lead to inflammation, which can cause your skin to itch at night.

Dry skin

Dry skin and other problems related to milk skin can occasionally be the cause of nocturnal pruritus. Your body's natural reaction to sleep makes your skin more likely to be dry at night. If you are prone to dry skin or live in a dry environment, this can lead to an increased risk of having itchy skin at night.

Skin inflammation conditions

Certain skin conditions can lead to nocturnal pruritus. Some of these conditions may include eczema, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis. Skin inflammation conditions usually have itchiness as a symptom associated with them. They also prevent your body from releasing heat during the cooling process of sleep, leading to increased itchiness at night.

Age

People over the age of 65 have naturally thinner and dryer skin. As we age, our body naturally loses its turgor elasticity and moisture. This makes the skin more susceptible to becoming itchy. Since itchiness increases at night, it is also more likely to occur at night.

Stress

When we are stressed throughout the day, our bodies will naturally have higher cortisol levels. When we are anxious or stressed, the hormone cortisol is released.

Chronic stress, leading to increased cortisol levels, can cause your body to become less sensitive to this hormone. Cortisol acts as an anti-inflammatory, so as your body becomes less sensitive to the hormone, you may be itchy from inflammation.

Hormonal changes

Hormonal changes are another reason people become itchy. Itching at night is more common in women who are pregnant or going through menopause. Estrogen levels fall during menopause, which results in drier skin that is itchier. Pregnancy causes increased blood flow and skin stretching, which can lead to itchy skin.

Allergies

Allergies can also be the cause of nighttime itching. Dust, skin fragments, dust mites, and other allergens that can itch the skin can all be found in bedding. The type of detergent you wash your bedding with may also cause irritation to your skin. People who are allergic should wash their bedding often and replace pillows and mattresses often.

Nerve disorders

People who suffer from certain neurological conditions, like multiple sclerosis and peripheral neuropathy, may experience itching. Your nerves may not fire properly at times, leaving you itchy. This may occur more frequently at night when you are attempting to sleep and your body is trying to communicate with body parts that are difficult for it to reach. When it gets there at the wrong time, it can make you itchy.

Kidney and liver disease

The liver and kidneys assist in filtering and processing waste materials from the blood. If you have kidney or liver disease, these waste products can build up in the blood and cause the skin to become itchy. Typically, these waste products are an accumulation of bile salts or urea.

When to see a doctor

Nocturnal pruritus may be just a naturally occurring process due to our sleep cycle. If your itching is particularly intense, you should consult your doctor to rule out any other medical issues that might be causing your nighttime itching. In order to make sure you are healthy, your doctor might ask for tests to check your thyroid, liver, or kidney function. To confirm that allergies are not the source of your itching, they might also prescribe allergy testing.

If your skin has redness, swelling, or yellowing discoloration (jaundice), you should speak with your doctor to rule out any further causes of why you are itching at night. You should also speak with your doctor if your itchiness is preventing you from sleeping at night and has lasted a long time. They might be able to recommend medicine to lessen your itching.

Managing nighttime itchiness

Nocturnal pruritus can impact your sleep patterns, leading to daytime sleepiness and fatigue. If you are having trouble with your nighttime itchiness, there are a few things you can do to help.

MeasureHow can it help
Prevent scratchingKeep your nails short and clean. Avoid scratching the irritated area. Wear fabric gloves at night to prevent yourself from itching.
FoodsAvoid foods that can stimulate itching., such as alcohol, caffeine, and spicy foods.
ShoweringUse warm water when taking a nighttime shower rather than hot. Hot water increases the blood flow to the skin, increasing the amount you will itch. Additionally, keep your showers under 20 minutes. Avoid using scented bath products, and when drying off, pat yourself dry instead of rubbing your skin.
SleepwearYour sleepwear should be made of a softer material, such as cotton or silk. It should also be light on your body and loose fighting style. If possible, you should also use a hypoallergenic laundry detergent.

Additionally, you can buy over-the-counter medication to help stop your itching. Your doctor may also prescribe some specific itching creams to help, for example:

  • Oily moisturizer
  • Menthol creams
  • Steroid creams
  • Antihistamines
  • Melatonin

Nocturnal pruritus is a condition that you may have if you experience nighttime itching. There are two possible causes of nocturnal pruritus: a natural occurrence that happens frequently, or another medical condition. If you are having trouble sleeping at night because of itching and it won't go away, you should see your doctor to ensure you don’t have any underlying conditions causing the itching.

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