How to Get Better Sleep With Eczema, According to Dermatologists – Tons of things can mess with your ability to get a good night’s rest (hello, endless TikTok scrolling). While sleep hygiene issues can sometimes be solved by, say, putting your smartphone away before bed, when you have eczema, quality rest can be more difficult to come by. Research has shown that up to two thirds of adults with eczema, a chronic condition that’s characterized by skin inflammation and irritation, have restless, short, low-quality sleep.1
“Sleep disturbance is a major [sign] to check in with your dermatologist,” Susan Massick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical, tells SELF. “It’s an important alert that you need to get your eczema under control.”
What is it about eczema that makes it hard to get solid rest, and what can you do to turn things around? Here, dermatologists break it down.
Why eczema can disrupt your sleep
Technically, crappy sleep isn’t a direct symptom of eczema (a.k.a. atopic dermatitis, the most common form of the condition), according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. But if you’ve had flare-ups, you know how insatiable the urge to scratch dry, itchy skin can be—which, no surprise, can be a big distraction when you’re trying to get some rest.
“Those with eczema become more aware of the itch and intense need to scratch at night when we are less stimulated and ready to sleep,” Cindy Wassef, MD, an assistant professor at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, tells SELF. “Without as many distractions, we tend to focus more on our skin and the discomfort.”
Plus, everyone wakes up throughout the night between cycles of sleep stages, and you may or may not be totally aware that you’re awake—or that you’re clawing into your flesh in this groggy state, Ife J. Rodney, MD, founding director of Eternal Dermatology Aesthetics and professor of dermatology at Howard University and George Washington University, tells SELF. Then, when you scratch yourself, your immune system releases histamine, which is a chemical that can make you feel even itchier.2 “It’s an itch/scratch cycle that becomes unbearable,” she says.
Naturally this can all have a big impact on you. “Itching can affect how fast you fall asleep, how restful your sleep is, how long you can sleep before the itching wakes you up, and, so, how tired you feel the next day,” Dr. Massick says. “This sleep deprivation compounds over time and can affect your overall health, well-being, and quality of life.”
The good news? There are things you can do to finally relax and get some shut-eye, according to experts.
How to build an itch-free nighttime routine if you have eczema
Everyone’s experience with eczema is different, and it can take some work to get itchiness under control—a treatment plan prescribed by a dermatologist is often a major part of that. But there are some things you can do to set yourself up for solid rest, even when your symptoms are flaring.
Moisturize like you mean it.
Before bed, Dr. Wassef suggests showering or bathing in lukewarm water and washing your body with unscented soap (scented products and hot water can irritate skin that’s already inflamed from eczema). “After bathing, I recommend patting—not rubbing—dry and applying a thick coat of moisturizing cream,” Dr. Wassef says. Gently work the product into your skin within three minutes of showering, while you’re still damp, to help lock in moisture, according to the National Eczema Association. If you’re not bathing on a given night, Dr. Rodney says it’s still a good idea to moisturize.
If there’s a particularly irritated or raw spot, slather some petroleum jelly—one that only contains 100% pure white petrolatum—on it, Dr. Rodney says. “This can make [the spot] smooth and slippery so that, if you try to scratch at night, you’re not irritating the skin,” she says. For extra insurance, you can slip on cotton gloves or mittens before you get in bed, per Dr. Rodney.
Invest in comfy clothes and bedding.
Your pajamas can help soothe your skin too. Dr. Massick suggests sticking with natural fibers, like cotton, silk, or bamboo, and avoiding wool and synthetics, like polyester or nylon, which can be rough against the skin. As for bedding, the same fabric rules apply, Dr. Rodney says.
How you wash your clothes and blankets matters too. “I recommend switching to unscented laundry detergent and skipping the dryer sheets—these can be even more irritating to already inflamed eczema skin,” Dr. Wassef says.
Keep things cool.
“Avoid overheating—try to stay cool, including while sleeping,” Dr. Rodney says, since heat can trigger eczema flare-ups. While the best temperature for snoozing is 65 degrees Fahrenheit, if that’s not possible, there are still things you can do to make it cooler: Blast a fan next to your bed, skip the big comforter (or sleep naked), or open a window. (Here are a few more tips to help make your room feel super relaxing.)
While it’s common for eczema to screw with your sleep, relentless itching isn’t normal—and you shouldn’t have to just deal with it. “Even if you have the mildest signs of eczema, you want to see a dermatologist and treat it so you don’t get to the point where it’s interrupting your sleep and lifestyle,” Dr. Massick says. “Avoiding hot showers and using moisturizers can help keep it under good control, but when eczema is super-flared, it’s not easy to get a good handle on it.”
Your dermatologist can guide you toward effective medications, like over-the-counter antihistamines and topical hydrocortisone, or prescription creams and possibly even biologics, if your symptoms are severe enough. Either way, you’re going to get even the worst sleep-screwing scratching under control—it might just take a few tweaks to your routine and convos with your doctor to get to that point. Sweet dreams!