By Dr. Larry Chiaramonte
The intersection of allergic disease and sleep patterns is an ongoing concern of ours (click here and here). While we mostly discuss it in relation to the epidemic of asthma, it’s also a factor in the upper airways. As an allergist with asthma in my own family and sleep issues of my own, this has long been a personal and professional preoccupation of mine. Simply put, anything that blocks the free flow of air in and out of your body hurts your ability to get a good night’s sleep, something that is vital to overall health and quality of life.
A new article about allergic rhinitis (nasal stuffiness), known as AR for short, puts the effects this way:
Individuals with AR suffer impaired cognitive function and reduced work productivity and performance. AR can affect children’s learning ability and performance at school and cause somnolence and inability to concentrate. These effects may be a direct result of allergic symptoms but are likely to be exacerbated by sleep impairment. Sleep-disordered breathing and sleep disturbance are known to be directly associated with decreased quality of life in the general population, as evidenced by experimentally induced sleep fragmentation in healthy individuals being associated with impaired mental flexibility and attention, increased daytime sleepiness, and impaired mood. Adolescents with AR have difficulty getting a good night’s sleep and experience problems doing schoolwork, and children with rhinitis and snoring have poorer school performance than healthy individuals.
Trouble breathing at night can start a vicious cycle of wakeful nights and sleepy daytimes, compounded by weight gain and still more breathing disruption.
In an excellent book, Sleep to Save Your Life, sleep specialist and pulmonologist Dr. Gerard Lombardo writes that there is an almost line-by-line correlation between the symptoms teachers and parents are taught to use to “diagnose” attention deficit (ADHD) and the signs of disordered sleep. On that basis, millions of children are put on Ritalin and Adderall, when they would be better off with less nighttime TV and computer use, better diets, and better treatment for their asthma and nasal allergies.