As the night kicks in and you hit your bed to have a good night’s sleep, does your skin start itching? If you feel the urge to scratch your arms or legs especially at night, you should not just ignore it.
Do you know that even the bed sheets and pillows you sleep on could make your skin itchy? The urge to scratch any part of the body at night is known as nocturnal pruritus . While it has many underlying causes, it can be treated medically or with natural remedies. We bring you all the details about the condition and how to control it.
Why Am I Itching All Over My Body?
Itching all over the body can be due to several causes -- bacterial and fungal infections , eczema , liver  and kidney disease , etc. Itching may be accompanied by a rash, flaky and cracked skin, a flaky scalp, spots or bumps on the skin, and redness. Not all kinds of itches can be cured with home remedies. Depending on the cause, treatments should be taken.
Here are some of the most common causes:
1. Dry Skin
One of the most common causes for itching on the body is cracked, dry and flaky patches on specific areas of the body like the forearms or the back. It is also one of the easiest conditions to treat by drinking enough water, staying hydrated and using an emollient rich moisturiser.
Dry skin is also sometimes a side effect of medication; or can be caused by skin ailments. So visit your dermatologist if the itchiness persists for too long.
2. Allergic Skin Reaction
Some food items such as peanuts, seafood, eggs, soy and wheat cause an allergic reaction in some people’s bodies. One of these reactions can be itching all over the body. It can occur at night especially if you eat dishes containing these ingredients for dinner.
Dry skin that causes itching is equally found in men and women. But, older people are more prone to itching all over the body as the skin’s production of collagen and natural oils reduces with age, making the skin dry and flaky.
4. Menopause And Pregnancy
Due to all the hormonal changes during a pregnancy , some pregnant women are known to have itching all over the body. It could be due to a rash or a more serious underlying condition like acne or psoriasis. Mostly, it gets better after birthing.
During menopause  and perimenopause, the skin may undergo changes in some women. It causes itchy skin which can occur on the face, arms, legs, chest, back and the neck. In some cases, your skin may itch on the T-zone of your face and the elbows.
It occurs because of the hormonal changes in the body during menopause. There is a loss of the hormone oestrogen which is connected with the production of collagen production and natural oils the skin needs. Collagen production slows down leading to itchy skin.
5. Chemical Products In Skin Care
Some cosmetics contain certain chemical ingredients that trigger an itch or an allergic reaction. Mosquito repellent creams, deodorants and other cleansing agents or soaps contain chemicals that can cause an itch.
Some medicines, at times, can cause itching all over the body. These may include OTC painkillers including opioids, drugs used in treating high blood pressure, oestrogen and diuretics  that reduce gas and bloating, and other medical conditions like high cholesterol.
7. Health Issues
Liver and kidney diseases are known to cause a rash all over the body. Skin conditions like psoriasis  too causes itching in the body at night. Hypothyroidism, stress and anxiety are also known to cause itching in the body.
Eczema, dermatitis, chickenpox and fungal infections in the crotch region (tinea cruris)  and athlete’s foot are infections that cause itching all over the body. Sexually transmitted diseases , haemorrhoids and on rare occasions, liver and last stage kidney disease can also be a cause of itching at night.
9. Contact Dermatitis
This itching is caused by toxins in plants such as poison ivy , sumac or poison oak, and certain grass varieties. Itching occurs when the skin comes into contact with them and the toxins present in these plants irritate the skin.
10. Bug bites
Itching on the body, sometimes accompanied by a rash, can be caused by mosquito bites and other parasites such as ticks, fleas, bedbugs, and body lice, etc. The itching can be concentrated where the bite occurred or spread all over the body.
Why Does The Itching Get Worse At Night?
There are many reasons why the itching worsens at night. Our body's natural rhythms are known to influence even the skin’s functions like fluid retention, blood circulation and temperature. At night, the blood flow and temperature increase make your skin warmer. This may make you want to scratch.
In winter, the skin is drier, so itching can worsen. This also happens because the skin loses moisture at night, making it parched.
At night, the body’s production of corticosteroids that reduce inflammation also slows down. It releases more cytokines at night, which increases inflammation. A combination of these two factors can make night itching worse.
Your mind plays a role too. During the day, even if you have itching on the body, you are busy with other things that distract you. At night, your activity is restricted to sleeping. With fewer distractions, the itching sensation gets stronger.
Sometimes, your bed linen can also cause an allergy, or wearing clothes made of synthetic fabric like nylon or polyester can cause itching all over the body.
Treating Itchy Skin At Night
A. Medical Remedies
A hydrocortisone cream can give you relief as it stops the release of chemicals that cause inflammation and itching on the body. Lubricating creams and lotions which have anti-inflammatory ingredients can reduce the urge to itch.
Antihistamines, which block the release of histamine, can calm the skin, which in turn prevents itching. Some antihistamines can make you drowsy; but there are non-drowsy options available too. A melatonin supplement that helps you sleep can also help.
Word Of Caution:
Medication to reduce itching should only be taken when prescribed by a qualified professional. Depending on your condition, your dermatologist could prescribe a corticosteroid cream or a strong antihistamine.
B. Natural Treatments
You can apply a body lotion or moisturiser that is hypoallergenic and fragrance free to control dry skin. This will lock the moisture in your skin that is otherwise lost at night. Body butters and emollient rich creams can help.
2. Oatmeal Bath
Oatmeal has soothing qualities. So showering with a bathing cleanser containing oatmeal before going to bed at night can help reduce the itching.
3. Baking Soda
You can mix this with your bath water and bathe with it twice or thrice a week to reduce body itching. Ensure the water is not too hot when you use baking soda.
4. Cool Compress
You can use a cool compress for the part of the body that is itching the most to calm it down. Then repeat on other areas that are itching. These days, you can even get cool compresses for different parts of the body.
Humidifiers release moisture into the air. So using one in your bedroom can prevent dry skin and control the climate too. If you have trouble falling asleep due to the itching, you can opt for one that has the aroma oil release mechanism included (lavender essential oil can help).
6. Relaxing Techniques
Itching all over the body can stress you out. So massaging your legs or hair, drinking a herbal tea like chamomile or liberally oiling the itchy parts of your skin can help reduce the itch.
Prevention Tips For Skin Itching At Night
You can prevent itching on the body by taking some measures to avoid irritants and create an atmosphere conducive to your skin.
1. Organic Cotton/Natural Fabrics
Using bed linen made of organic cotton or natural fabrics made without chemical processes can help in preventing body itching.
2. Uniform Temperature
If your room is too hot, it can aggravate itchy skin. If you have an air-conditioner or cooler, bring your room’s temperature down to cool the room and your skin. This helps to keep itching at bay.
3. Avoid Skin Irritants
If you use products that have strong and artificial fragrances, they can aggravate an itch. Use fragrance free products as much as possible.
4. Clip Your Nails Short
If you keep your nails short, you won’t be able to scratch yourself much and prevent further infections and complications.
5. Stay Hydrated
The best and most effective way to prevent and control itching on the body, especially if it is caused by dry skin, is to drink enough water throughout the day. If you don’t have bladder problems, it is recommended you drink a glass of water before you go to bed too.
6. Shorter Showers
Reduce the amount of time you spend under the shower before you go to bed. This will prevent dry skin and control the itching.
When To See Your Doctor?
If you eat something that causes a food allergy, you need to see a doctor. The symptoms can be mild like itchy skin or eyes, or severe like cramps, nausea, diarrhoea and swelling.
If an itch is persistent and doesn’t reduce even with the application of topical creams, OTC medication or natural remedies, consult a dermatologist.
If you have a prevalent skin condition like eczema and you have an itch, consult your doctor for medication that will give you relief.
What Else Can Cause Itchy Skin At Night?
Stress and anxiety can make you feel like scratching, though there may be no cause behind it. Some nerve disorders also trigger a feeling of itchy skin. The nerve disorder itch could be indicative of other ailments like multiple sclerosis,  diabetes or shingles.
In rare cases, an itch that won’t go away with every other treatment could be an early symptom of cancer. But, this holds true only if it is accompanied with other symptoms such as low grade fever, sudden weight loss and night sweats.
While itchy skin all over the body at night occurs mostly due to dry skin, there are other causes and medical conditions that can cause it. Preventive measures work best in keeping itchy skin at bay. However, there are several home remedies and topical creams you can apply if your skin starts itching every night. Don’t forget to consult your doctor in case the problem persists for too long.
Did You Know?
- Those with eczema are more likely to suffer from this condition.
- If you have hypothyroidism, you could have dry skin that leads to itching all over the body.
- With age, the skin gets drier, hence older people are more prone to itching all over the body.
- People living in colder and drier climates have dry skin which is a cause for itching.
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