Itchy Skin at Night: Causes and Treatments

Itchy Skin at Night: Causes and Treatments

Updated 01/25/23.

We’ve all been there. It’s the end of a long day, and you’ve *finally* gotten into bed, ready to catch some much earned sleep.
But then, it starts. The urge to scratch.
A little itch here, a little itch there. Soon, your whole body is itching like crazy, and you just can’t seem to make it stop. So much for getting a good night’s sleep.
Why does skin seem to itch so much more at night?
If you’re reading this because you’ve been Googling how to relieve itchy skin on your phone at midnight from your bed, you’re in the right place.
Read on to learn about the many things that cause itchy skin at night and get to the bottom of this frustrating skin condition once and for all!

What are the causes of itchy skin at night?

It’s a simple question with a potentially complicated answer that's hard to diagnose. Let’s break down some of the more common terminology as it relates to potential reasons for itchy skin at night, and what's causing your itch.


Nocturnal pruritus

Woman with itchy skin

If you’re experiencing more itchiness at night, it may be due to a condition known as nocturnal pruritus. It is also known as nocturnal itch or nighttime itch.

The definition of the condition is when itching occurs only at night or worsens at night. Many people with this condition may also have a daytime itch, but notice itching more at night.

Why does my skin itch worse at night? Circadian rhythm and itch triggers

Circadian rhythm

The circadian rhythm refers to our body’s natural 24-hour cycle. This means that we have certain physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle. This internal clock is affected by the amount of light exposure we get, and directly effects our sleep patterns.
Skin, too, has a circadian rhythm. This means that the skin has different functions at different times of day, just like the rest of the body. For example, skin cell production is highest at night.
It’s thought that this natural rhythm may be one reason why skin itch seems to be worse at night.
When we’re asleep, you are in repair mode. This means that your body is working hard to regenerate and help the skin heal itself. This process may lead to an increase in histamine production, which can lead to the skin getting itchy.
Additionally, skin temperature and blood flow to the skin tend to be higher at night, which results in a decrease in the efficacy of the skin barrier. This in turn leads to greater moisture loss and can irritate your skin and make your skin itch.

Itch trigger

An itch trigger is anything that sets off the itch response. It can be an irritant, like a bug bite or poison ivy, or a one of a number of skin conditions that cause itching like shingles, scabies, eczema (atopic dermatitis) or psoriasis.
For people with nocturnal pruritus, finding possible causes of an itch trigger so they can get relief can be tricky. It may the side effect of a medication, or it could be related to an underlying health condition.
In some cases, there may not be an identifiable trigger at all. This is especially common in older adults. If you’re struggling to identify your itch trigger, it may be helpful to keep a diary.
Note when the itchiness starts, how long it lasts, what makes it better or worse, and any other relevant information. This can help you and your doctor narrow down the potential causes that have resulted in irritated skin.

Treatment to soothe your skin

The diagnosis and treatment for nocturnal pruritus often focuses on relieving the itch so that it doesn’t disrupt sleep, and is somewhat dependent on the underlying cause.
The first step to solving the issue is to understand what may be causing it.

Common causes of nighttime itching

There are a variety of reasons that itchy skin may be caused by:
  • Dry Skin
  • Inflammation
  • Insect Bites
  • Irritants
  • Allergies
  • Stress or Anxiety
  • Scratching in and of itself
  • A symptom of an underlying condition
Let’s take a look at each of these in a little more detail:

Dry Skin

Dry skin
In dermatology, one of the most common symptoms and causes for itchiness, both during the day and at night, is dry skin
.
When the skin is dry, it is more susceptible to itchiness and irritation.
Dry skin may be caused by a variety of things, including a weather change, a hot bath or shower, certain shampoo, soaps or detergents, and more.
Skin is naturally drier at night, partly because we’re not exposed to as many moisture-rich environments when we’re sleeping. This can make the problem even worse. Any existing itchiness is exacerbated.
An underlying skin condition like eczema or psoriasis are often worse at night because your body temperature naturally drops while we sleep, which can lead to increased dryness as the skin loses moisture.
To help soothe dry, itchy skin at night, try using a humidifier in your bedroom. Adding moisture to the air with a humidifier can help to hydrate your skin and prevent your skin from drying out. A humidifier can also cause improvements help to relieve other conditions such as sinus congestion and headaches.
You can also try using a moisturizer before bed, one that contains ingredients like hyaluronic acid or shea butter to help lock in moisture. There are many products on the market that your healthcare provider may recommend, but it's important to make sure that the drying effects of any additional products are minimized.

Inflammation

Dry skin scratch

 

Itching is often worse at night because that’s when the body’s natural inflammatory process ramps up. During the day, we’re constantly moving around and using our muscles, which helps to reduce inflammation. At night, however, we’re still and our bodies have a chance to rest and repair.
This increased inflammation can cause more itchiness, as well as pain and stiffness in the morning. Scratching can make the itching worse by causing the skin to lose moisture and become further inflamed.
Some common treatments for inflammation of the skin include anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen and topical corticosteroids. It's very important to only use topical steroids as directed, as extended use can result in severe side effects and even addition and withdrawal syndromes.

Your healthcare provider may also recommend some over-the-counter allergy medications (antihistamines), like diphenhydramine; though they can cause drowsiness.

If you have severe itching, they may prescribe a stronger prescription medicine to provide relief.

Insect Bites

Skin that has been bitten by an insect
If you’ve been bitten by a bug, chances are the itching will be worse at night.
This, as we’ve learned, is because the body’s inflammatory response is triggered when we’re trying to sleep and our bodies are not distracted by other stimuli.
Whether it’s bed bugs or chiggers, itchy skin at night with bumps on the skin can be maddening and make it hard to sleep.
There are a few things you can do to ease the itch of bug bites. The best skin care treatment for a bug bite is to clean it with soap and water and then apply an anti-itch cream or calamine lotion.
Applying a cold compress or ice pack can also help to reduce swelling and inflammation with the cooling effect. You can also try using an over-the-counter antihistamine, which can help to control histamine levels.

Irritants

Irritants and detergents allergies
There are a number of things that can irritate the skin and cause itchiness, both during the day and at night. These include soaps, detergents, chemicals, fabrics, and even certain foods. If you have sensitive skin, you may be more susceptible to these irritants.
When trying to identify an irritant, it’s often a process of elimination. If you can narrow down what you were using or exposed to before the nocturnal itching started, that may be the culprit.
For example, you might determine that your neck or scalp itch could be the result of a new soap or shampoo which is causing your symptoms. It's also possible that you find the cause of your discomfort in some new medications that have been prescribed.
Once you identify the irritant, avoiding it is the best way to prevent further irritation.
If you’re unsure what’s causing your skin to become irritated, try using a hypoallergenic soap or detergent and see if that helps. You can also try switching to a different type of pajama or sheet fabric, such as cotton, which is less likely to irritate the skin.

Allergies

Woman in bed with allergies
In addition, allergies can be more pronounced at night. Often times when we sleep, the position we’re in can exacerbate the allergies.
Sinus allergies, for example, can be made worse by lying down flat, as this position can cause the sinuses to drain into the throat. This can lead to a cough, as well as increased itchiness in the nose and throat.
To help ease nighttime allergies, try using a saline nasal rinse before bed. This will help to clear out the allergens and irritants from your nose and sinuses. You can also try using an over-the-counter antihistamine or decongestant.
If you have a dust mite allergy, it’s important to keep your bedroom clean and free of dust. Vacuum the floors and surfaces often, and wash your bedding in hot water weekly.

Scratching itself can lead to itching

Itching is often worse at night because we’re not distracted from it, as we are during the day. When you scratch an itch, you break the skin barrier, which allows moisture to escape and bacteria to enter. This can lead to even more itching and irritation, and possibly a skin infection.

This restarts the itch-scratch cycle. This is why it's so important to try not to scratch.

When to see a doctor

In most cases, itchy skin at night is not a sign of a serious underlying medical condition or skin disease. However, if you have any other symptoms along with the itching — such as a rash or fever — it’s important to see your dermatologist to rule out any potential causes.
It's also important to see your dermatologist regularly so they can give your skin a thorough exam and review your medical history to help prevent skin cancer or other serious health concerns.
They will also be able to determine whether there are triggers in the environment that contribute to making the skin itch. Exposing possible triggers to separate patches of skin can cause an allergic reaction, and lead to a solution, depending on the cause.
Some medical conditions – like kidney disease or liver disease – can cause an increase in histamine levels, leading to skin itching or an itchy rash at night. If you’re experiencing this condition, talk to your doctor to determine the cause of itching and the best course of treatment.

Less itching, more snoozing: home remedies for nighttime itching

In science and medicine, there’s rarely a “one size fits all” approach that’s effective. This is certainly true for the different underlying causes that can cause itching at night.
However, when it comes to nocturnal pruritus relief (and sleep), the goal is the same: Stop the itch.
Here are several home remedies that you can be doing to help soothe itchy skin and get a good night's rest:
  • Using a humidifier in your bedroom
  • Avoiding hot showers or baths, and opting to bathe in lukewarm water at night instead
  • Gentle cleansing with an unscented soap
  • Wearing loose-fitting, cotton clothing
  • Avoiding scratching
  • Using a cool compress
  • Use of a moisturizer before bedtime

    The secret weapon in the fight against nocturnal pruritus

    All of the above are great steps to take in your path to itch free slumber. But sometimes it’s less about the journey more like “beam me up, Scotty; I want to get there NOW!”

    If you want fast-acting relief from itchy skin at night, you want Dermeleve®.

    Dermeleve boxes and tubes

    Dermeleve® was created to stop itch dead in its tracks. Period.

    In fact, unlike traditional anti-itch creams that use corticosteroids, you can start feeling results in minutes instead of weeks. And because Dermeleve is completely steroid free, there is no risk of long term side effects or withdrawal symptoms that come with topical steroid use.

    This also means that Dermeleve is safe to use as often as you like- including every day and every night- whenever the skin starts itching! So as long as the itching lasts, you have treatment options available to stop the urge to itch.

    Beyond the itch-killing factor, Dermeleve® also happens to be an amazing moisturizer, proving to be an excellent choice to help with nocturnal pruritus caused by dry skin.

    Not only is it rich in both hyaluronic acid and shea butter, but it also contains a blend of natural ingredients like ceramides and vitamin C and E to help soothe the skin, retain moisture and promote skin cell regeneration.

    Wrap Up

    At some point in our lives, most of us will experience the misery of itchy skin. And for some unlucky folks, that itchiness will be relentless, coming and going without regard to the time of day—or night.

    However, with a little care and attention, itchiness at night can be manageable. A few simple steps can help to reduce itching, especially at night and promote a good night’s sleep.

    These include using a humidifier to keep the air moist, wearing loose-fitting clothing made from natural fibers, and applying a soothing lotion before bedtime.

    Dermeleve® is a safe, fast-acting, long-lasting solution that works to relieve your itchy skin—with no steroids.

    The unique solution combines natural components that soothe your skin while also relieving irritation, as well as patented SrX-38™, which rapidly absorbs into the skin and substantially reduces itching.

    The best part is that Dermeleve is available without a prescription, so you can get the relief you need without having to see a doctor.

    So if you’re tired of dealing with chronic itchy skin irritation, give Dermeleve a try.

    It just might be the solution you’ve been searching for. And if you haven’t made up your mind yet about Dermeleve®, well, sleep on it.

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