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.