Itchy Skin at Night? Here’s why….

Itchy Skin at Night? Here’s Why It Happens and How to Deal

The experts reveal all



Much like your train being cancelled or spilling coffee down your white top, itchy skin at night is one of those irritations that seems to come out of nowhere.

So: why do the dark hours sometimes bring the need to scratch relentlessly – and what can you do, to control it?

Itchy skin at night: what exactly is going on, here? Why does my skin itch at night?

Itching at night can be a symptom of a skin issue like atopic eczema, seborrhoeic dermatitis or psoriasis.

But if that’s the case then you’re likely to know what it is – or at least you have something to show your doctor that can, in most cases, be easily diagnosed.

WTF is nocturnal pruritus and why is it causing itching at night?

The kind of skin itching that happens at night, seemingly out of nowhere, and with no sign of a rash is called nocturnal pruritus. As you'll know if you've dealt with it, it can wreak havoc with your sleep.

A 2016 study explains the various different causes of this itchy skin at night:

*Your circadian rhythms, as you know, governs your sleep-wake cycle: helping you to feel drowsy at night and alert in the morning (unless you're a natural night owl and experience surges of energy later in the day and later at night.) Part of this process means that our core temperature rises in the evening which can increase blood flow to the skin and, in turn, itching.

*At night, the heat generated in our body leads to Trans Epidermal Water Loss (TEWL), which can also contribute to itching.

*Another result of your circadian rhythm doing its thing is that our anti-inflammatory corticosteroids are at their lowest level in the evening which means itching can be more noticeable.

*Another factor is actually psychological. People with chronic itching often have heightened levels of stress and depression. Now, this could be a bit chicken and egg since itching can affect sleep which can, in turn, lead to stress and depression.

What else can cause extreme itching without a rash?

As to other maybe causes? Dermatologist Dr. Stefanie Williams, founder of the Eudelo skin clinic, also notes that ‘a serious condition called polycythaemia can lead to itching at night.

'Polycythaemia, means having a high concentration of red blood cells, which makes the blood thicker and its flow more sluggish. People with polycythaemia may experience red skin, particularly on the face, hands and feet.

The skin might be itchy, especially after a bath or shower. There might also be bleeding problems such as nosebleeds and easy bruising. Other symptoms may include headaches, tiredness, high blood pressure, blurred vision and tummy pain.’

There are less dramatic reasons that could be at play here, too.

'If the skin’s lipid barrier is compromised and the skin is not in a healthy condition, then any changes in the body or external environment can cause 'uncomfortable skin,' says celebrity facialist and skin expert, Nataliya Robinson.

'So, itching late at night can be caused by too hot showers, air-conditioning or central heating present in the room,' she adds.

'Lack of magnesium can cause itchy skin too, as during the day the body overuses this mineral and as the result the body might be depleted of the mineral in the evening.'

What cancer can cause itchy skin?

Not to be alarmist, but it's important to note that a 2018 study monitored almost 17,000 patients and found that patients with skin itching were more likely to have cancer than those without.

Cancers of the liver, gallbladder and biliary tract, hematopoietic system and skin were most strongly associated with skin itching. But, that doesn’t mean that if your skin is itching you have anything else wrong with you.

Can itchy skin be a sign of liver problems?

Primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) is a chronic disease where progressive inflammation and destruction of the small bile ducts within the liver occurs.

One of the early symptoms of PBC is itching but it’s not the only one, so you would really need a doctor to diagnose you.

How can I get rid of itchy skin at night?

That 2016 study mentioned earlier? It outlined the possible causes also looks at the best treatments.

It notes that antihistamines can help with nocturnal itching – but that it has to be first-generation antihistamines, i.e. the ones that make you drowsy. If you do want to go down this route, then Piriton is a good choice.

Thomas suggests that 'if it is an allergy or a medicine causing the itching, then removing the triggers, if you can, will help.

For general itching, having hydrated skin can ease the itching, so have a bath with moistening and calming colloidal oatmeal, as will using an oil-, alcohol- and scent-free hydrator like Cerave.

'A humidifier in your room will keep skin hydrated while you sleep and finally, try and keep the room temperature constant and cool to stop extra heat,’ she adds.

Still itching? Then it's time to visit your GP or a dermatologist.


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