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Every evening, like clockwork, it's the same old thing. You get pajamas on and crawl into bed. But before you can get comfortable and fall asleep, you start feeling an itch deep within your skin. You try to ignore your itchy skin at night, willing it to go away.
Unfortunately, it never disappears, no matter how long you try to fight it. Eventually, your willpower runs out, so you give in and start scratching.
This cycle of itching and scratching can be maddening, not to mention disruptive to a good night's sleep. If this sounds all too familiar, you're not alone. Itchy skin at night is a common problem with many different causes.
Table Of Contents
- Itchy Skin At Night
- Common Causes Of Itchy Skin At Night
- Treating Itchy Skin At Night
- Skincare Routine To Prevent Itchy Skin At Night
Itchy Skin At Night
Itchy skin at night, also called nocturnal pruritus, is when you experience an intense urge to scratch your skin during the evening or nighttime hours.
You may experience this sensation only at night or feel itchy all day long, with the itching getting worse at night. The itchiness can affect any part of your body, but you’ll often notice it on your arms, legs, back, or bottom.
The itching may be so severe that it disrupts your sleep and leaves you feeling exhausted during the day. But it could also be minor, causing only a bit of discomfort.
Itchy skin isn't the only symptom you might notice when suffering from this condition. Other possible symptoms include:
It's also possible to break open your skin when you scratch, which can lead to infection.
Risk Factors For Nighttime Itching
While anyone can struggle with occasional bouts of itchy skin at night, some factors increase your odds of dealing with this irritating skin condition more regularly.
- Your age: As you grow older, your skin naturally becomes drier and more prone to itching
- Allergies: As your body releases histamine to fight the allergen, it can leave you feeling itchy
- Running your home's heater: Your home's HVAC system can dry out your skin and make you more likely to feel the need to scratch
- Taking long baths: While soaking sounds like it'd add moisture to your skin, it can actually strip away natural oils and make your skin feel itchier
- Your health: If you have certain illnesses, such as kidney disease, diabetes, or specific types of cancer, you may experience nocturnal itching
- Your skin type: People who already struggle with dry skin are more likely to feel itchy
Common Causes Of Itchy Skin At Night
Many different things can cause your skin to itch while you’re trying to sleep. To help you narrow down the possibilities, let’s look at some of the most likely culprits.
Dry skin is one of the most common reasons people experience itchy skin at night. When your skin is dry, it doesn't have enough moisture to protect itself from irritants. This can make it more likely to itch.
Since you're not drinking as much water at night, you can become dehydrated. And dehydration can make your skin even drier, exacerbating the itchiness.
Normal Body Functions
It's normal for your skin to change at night. Your body temperature drops, and your skin loses moisture. These changes can lead to itchiness.
While some body functions also cause itchiness during the day, you may be more distracted during this time, so you don't notice it as much. However, at night, you're winding down and trying to sleep. As a result, you’re more likely to focus on the itchiness, making it feel worse.
Certain medications can cause itchy skin as a side effect. Here are a few types of drugs where this is a known problem:
- High blood pressure medications
- Oral antifungal agents
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
It could be connected if you recently began taking a new drug and suddenly develop itchy skin at night. Bring it up with your doctor to get their opinion. If they think the medication is causing your itchiness, they may change your dosage or try a different type of medication.
Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that causes dry, scaly patches on your skin. If you have psoriasis, you may also experience itching. The itchiness can worsen at night, making it difficult to get enough rest.
Eczema is another chronic skin condition that's characterized by dry, scaly skin. It can also cause intense itching and rashes. Like psoriasis, eczema flare-ups can happen at any time, but they're often worse at night.
Ringworm is a fungal infection that's common among kids. This condition can cause itchy, red patches on your skin. The patches are circular, like a ring.
Chickenpox Or Shingles
Though they’re caused by the same virus and are similar, chickenpox and shingles have different symptoms.
Chickenpox usually causes itchy rashes all over your body, while shingles produce painful blisters or rashes along one side of your body. If you develop either condition, you may experience increased itchiness at night and during the day.
“Good night, sleep tight, and don't let the bedbugs bite” isn't just a cute saying. Bedbugs are real, and they can cause your skin to feel like it’s crawling.
These tiny insects live off human blood, and they're most active at night when you're asleep. They bite your skin during these evening hours, causing red, itchy welts to form.
If you think you might have bedbugs, look for tiny brown bugs in your sheets or mattress. You might also notice bloodstains on your bedding from where they've been biting you.
Other Insect Bites
Bedbugs aren't the only insects that can bite you and cause itchy skin. Mosquitoes, fleas, and mites can also do this. Their bites usually cause a red, itchy bump to form.
In addition, if you're allergic to the insect's saliva, you may develop hives or a more severe reaction.
Your body goes through many changes while growing a new baby. For example, hormonal fluctuations can cause your skin to become dry and itchy. This is especially true during the third trimester, when your body produces more estrogen.
In some cases, pregnancy can also cause pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (PUPPP). This condition causes a red, itchy rash to develop on your stomach. The rash usually starts around the belly button and spreads from there.
In addition to the rash, PUPPP makes your skin itch. It can intensify at night when you don't have other things to take your mind off of it.
PUPPP isn’t the only concerning medical condition that causes intense itching during pregnancy. Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy can occur as well. This liver condition can create complications for you and your baby.
Because of the risks, anytime you experience extreme itchiness during pregnancy, you should mention it to your healthcare provider.
Mental Health Challenges
Your body and mind are connected, so it's not surprising that mental health challenges can cause itchiness. Studies have linked stress and anxiety to increased itching.
Cortisol, the stress hormone, can reduce your skin's natural barrier, making it drier. And as mentioned earlier, dry skin is often itchy.
In addition, your mind might tell your body that it's itching, even if there's no real itch. This is known as psychogenic pruritus. It can cause you to scratch so much you damage your skin, even though there’s nothing physically wrong with you on that part of your body.
While it’s never fun to learn that your itching could all be in your head, the good news is that you can treat this condition with your doctor or therapist’s help.
Other Health Conditions
Sometimes, itchy skin at night is a symptom of a more serious health condition. For example, kidney disease and cancer can cause your skin to itch. So can liver disease and thyroid problems. People with diabetes can also experience issues with their skin, including itchiness.
If you have other symptoms in addition to itchy skin, talk to your doctor to see if they think an underlying condition may be to blame.
When the air is dry, your skin loses moisture more quickly, making it feel itchy and tight. This problem often worsens at night due to natural dips in humidity. It’s also often worse in the winter when using indoor heaters to stay warm.
Furnaces, wood stoves, or other heat sources reduce the amount of moisture in the air. If you’ve noticed that you have seasonal itchiness, this could be why.
Treating Itchy Skin At Night
Now that you know some possible reasons for your skin feeling so itchy, it's time to take action. That way, you can get a good night’s sleep and wake up feeling refreshed instead of exhausted.
If you have dry skin, one of the best things you can do is moisturize regularly. Look for a lotion or cream that's specifically designed for dry skin, such as our Eczema Daily Calming Cream. It's gentle enough to use daily, and the natural colloidal oatmeal formula can help keep your skin hydrated.
Bodewell skincare formulations with clinical-grade botanicals contain powerful ingredients, including salicylic acid and colloidal oatmeal, to help you fight itchiness due to psoriasis or eczema.
For example, our Psoriasis Soothing Spray allows you to quickly spray a soothing blast onto areas that are itching due to psoriasis.
In all of our products, the clinically proven active ingredients start to work on day one to help relieve eczema and psoriasis symptoms, and the soothing botanicals help you achieve clearer-looking skin over time.
Use A Humidifier At Night
A humidifier adds moisture to the air, which can keep your skin from drying out while you sleep. It can be a powerful tool in your battle against nighttime itchiness.
When using a humidifier, be sure to clean it regularly. Otherwise, it can become a breeding ground for mold and bacteria, making your skin itch even more.
Ideally, you’ll want to keep the humidity level in your home between 30-50%. If it drops below that, your skin can dry out. But if you make it too moist, you’re encouraging the growth of mold and mildew.
Change Your Pajamas And Bedding
Some fabrics can irritate your skin, making you itch more at night. If you think this might be the case, switch to pajamas and bedding made from a different material.
Natural fabrics, like cotton or silk, are usually best for people with sensitive skin. You might also want to try sleeping in loose-fitting clothes so your skin doesn't feel constricted.
In addition to your pajamas, also ensure that your sheets are irritant-free. If you're using fabric softener or dryer sheets, switch to a hypoallergenic variety. Take time to wash your sheets in hot water once a week to kill any dust mites that might be causing your skin to itch.
Try Calamine Lotion
While most people associate this pretty pink lotion with poison ivy, you can use calamine lotion to soothe a variety of itchy skin conditions. It’s beneficial for treating insect bites or stings since the zinc oxide it contains provides cooling relief.
Before you go to bed, apply a thin layer of the lotion to your itchy areas. A cotton ball works well for this purpose. Once it’s on, let it dry on your skin so it has time to work.
Use A Cool Compress
If you keep an instant cold pack by your bed, you can activate it at night whenever your itchy skin wakes you up. Keep a small towel nearby as well to wrap it in. Then, hold it on the itchy area for a few minutes.
The cold numbs the area a bit, relieving the itchiness.
Treat Underlying Health Conditions
If a skin condition, such as eczema or psoriasis, is flaring up at night, you won't notice much improvement unless you treat the underlying condition. This is true for diabetes, kidney disease, and any other health condition you’re dealing with.
Be sure to let your physician know that you’re experiencing itchy skin. They may recommend additional testing or have personalized suggestions for treatment based on your medical needs.
High stress levels and itching skin can go hand in hand. To help reduce your stress, make time for regular self-care activities. You can try:
- Deep breathing exercises
- Taking a walk in nature
- Doing yoga
- Drinking a cup of hot tea
- Reading a book
Activities like these can help you relax. So pick a couple that you enjoy and work them into your daily schedule.
If you still feel overwhelmed, consider talking to a counselor or therapist. They can help you identify the source of your stress and develop a plan for managing it.
Apply Anti-Itch Cream
If you’re looking for instant relief from your itchiness, try applying a small amount of anti-itch cream. This topical medication is available over the counter and contains hydrocortisone, a steroid used to treat various skin conditions.
Follow the directions on the package to ensure you don’t apply too much. While slathering it on thick may seem like a good idea, it’s not. Too much hydrocortisone can make your symptoms worse instead of relieving them.
Consult A Healthcare Professional
If you've tried different home remedies and still aren't able to rest at night, it's time to ask for professional help. Schedule an appointment with your doctor or dermatologist to get to the bottom of your itchy skin problem.
Your healthcare professional will likely ask you about your symptoms and give you a physical exam. They may also recommend patch testing or other tests to determine what's causing your itchiness. Once they've diagnosed the problem, they can prescribe the appropriate treatment.
Skincare Routine To Prevent Itchy Skin At Night
Treating itchy skin is a good start, but keeping it from returning is even better! Here’s a simple skincare routine you can try to keep your skin healthy and hydrated so you can sleep.
1) Get Clean
Wash off any dirt and grime that accumulated during the day. But keep your bath or shower on the shorter side (5-10 minutes) and cooler.
Use soap or body wash without harsh chemicals or other irritating ingredients. Apply the soap with your fingertips instead of a rough washcloth. And make sure to rinse thoroughly. Soapy residue can make you itchy.
Slather on a thick moisturizer right after you get out of the shower while your skin is still damp. This helps seal in the moisture, so it'll last all night long.
Look for products that contain botanical ingredients, such as almond oil or shea butter, as they can help soothe itchy skin while keeping it hydrated.
3) Decompress Before You Go To Sleep
Climb into your PJs early and give yourself time to decompress before bed. This can help you relax and reduce stress, leading to healthier skin.
Try relaxation techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, to calm your body and mind. Avoid using your phone or other screens, as this can stimulate your brain and make it harder to fall asleep.
4) Wear Gloves To Bed
When an itch strikes, your initial response will likely be to scratch it. But that is the worst thing you can do. Scratching will only worsen the problem, as mentioned earlier.
However, having the willpower to not scratch is hard, especially if an incessant itch just woke you up from a deep sleep.
To make sure you don’t end up scratching in the middle of the night, try wearing a pair of soft gloves to bed or covering your hands with socks.
The gloves can prevent you from reflexively scratching and allow your skin to heal. And as a bonus, wearing gloves to bed can help moisturize your skin.
5) Get Enough Rest
Your body needs sleep to repair and rebuild your skin. Aim for at least seven to eight hours of quality rest every night.
If you’re struggling to get enough sleep, try these tips:
- Keep a regular sleep schedule
- Darken your room
- Remove electronics from the bedroom
- Avoid drinking caffeine or alcohol for a couple of hours before bed
- Get some movement or exercise in during the day
- Keep your room on the cool side
- Change your sheets regularly
If your itchy skin is keeping you awake, see if your doctor has any additional recommendations. They might recommend a gentle sleeping aid, such as melatonin, to help you stay asleep.
Stop The Itch And Get Back To Sleep
Itchy skin at night can throw a wrench in your sleeping habits. But with the right treatment plan, you can get your skin under control and get the rest you need.
Our experts at Bodewell are here to help you find the products you need to soothe your itchy skin. Our line of gentle psoriasis, eczema, and other skincare products can help relieve your symptoms so you can sleep like a baby night after night.