Itchy skin at night- what causes it?

Itchy skin at night- what causes it?

Itchy skin is medically called nocturnal pruritus. It is a common condition that shows a disturbance in natural body functions. There could be anything that is affecting body processes, irritating the skin or even a result of unsuitable medicines that may cause itching in the night.

You can try a number of home remedies and various over the counter topical medicines that may help to reduce the symptoms of itchy skin. It may start as low or mild irritation of the skin, but it can get worse with time. Rarely, itchy skin in the night is a sign of underlying serious diseases i.e. organ failure or cancer.

What is nocturnal pruritus?

Do you know that approximately one-quarter of adults in USA experience from the long-term effects of itchy skin at any stage of their life? If it persists during nighttime, it is medically termed as chronic pruritus.

It is even proven by latest research that over 90% of the people that have chronic pruritus is a victim of nocturnal pruritus (NP) or skin itchiness only at night. This extreme itching makes the condition miserable and the person finds very hard to sleep in the night.

Gradually, it starts to affect the emotional health too. It can cause a distress, which may affect the professional and personal life of the person. The constant stress can lead to even more damaging effects on health in general.

What causes it?

Like many skin conditions, night itching initiates as the darkness prevails. It starts from the evening and prolongs as the night proceeds. One thing that may not be ignored at this stage is that many of the bodily changes such as hormones, molecules, and chemical releases also take place in the night.

In extreme cases, the skin will become even itchier at night because there is no distraction otherwise. The person suffering from night itchiness is in the bed, trying to sleep and there is not anything that may distract his mind at that time. Sometimes its just a reaction or allergic response of the body but rarely, nighttime itchiness may also represent more serious health conditions.

Talking about some common causes of night itchiness, the following is what may impact most of the people.

Related: Why are my fingers itchy?

Circadian rhythm

The body self-regulates its hormones and chemicals which may use a circadian rhythm- it is the natural 24-hour cycle of the body. It causes some fluctuations, which may increase the itching at night. It also includes

  • Improved blood circulation
  • Increased skin temperature
  • Increase in water loss via sweating
  • An increase in cytokine (these are molecules that coordinate cells communication during immune responses that trigger inflammation)
  • A decrease in corticosteroid (It is the hormone that helps to reduce inflammation)
  • It disrupts prostaglandin (PG) (these are hormones which may cause blood vessels to widen)

Menopause or pregnancy

A change in estrogen level of the body may also cause dryness, itchy skin, or flushed skin. Women that pass through menopause which describe the sensation which sometimes feels like ants crawling sensations.

Other causes

Some other causes of feeling itchiness at night are as follows.

  • Bed bugs, fleas, ticks or other insects
  • Hives
  • Allergic reactions to chemicals (lotions, dyes or perfumes)
  • Dry skin
  • Sunburn
  • Stress or depression
  • Chickenpox or any other viral disease
  • Sweating heavily
  • Specific types of medications

Sometimes, itchy skin may also represent signs of other chronic diseases. These conditions may include.

  • Eczema
  • Psoriasis
  • Fungal infections
  • Thyroid problems
  • Skin cancer
  • Nervous system problems
  • HIV infection
  • Organ failure
  • Deficiency of iron
  • Stress or anxiety

Home remedies to get rid of the night itching

There are many things that will help to decrease the itching that occurs at night, even without using any medicine oral or topical. Check the following remedies.

Bath: take a bath in cool or lukewarm water before you head to bead. You can use moisturizer on your body, baking soda or scent free lotions. You can get any medicated moisturizer from local stores.

Glycerin based gels: if you don’t want heavy feeling on the body, you can also use glycerin based, oil- and alcohol-free moisturizers before sleeping. There are a number of brands that make such moisturizers.

Vitamin E creams: using vitamin E creams is also helpful o get over itching.

Aloe vera: for its various benefits for health, using aloe vera is significantly beneficial for skin especially for itchy skin.

Humidifier: you can also use a room humidifier to moisten the air. There are multiple types of humidifier available in the market.

Cold compress: sometimes using a cold compress on the affected area, before going to the bed is also helpful.

Gloves: wear gloves before going to bed, it will prevent you to scratch the body and make the symptoms go worse.

Relaxation medicines: if you use a mental relaxation medicine, it will make you sleep with ease. You can also take help from books and audio guides.

Loose fitting clothes: wear loose fitting clothes to make yourself comfortable and let your skin breathe.

Make sure to check your bed and its linings. There are chances that you may be having bed bugs, fleas or another insect infestations. Use essential oils like peppermint oil to sooth the skin. You can also use essential oil on your pillow to make your sleep regulated and peaceful.

Related: Swimmer’s Itch- What is it and how do you Get it?

Can you prevent itching at night?

 You can also prevent the chance of getting itchiness at night by following these simple lifestyle changes.

  • Keep yourself hydrated.
  • Moisturize your skin.
  • Avoid long baths, saunas or showers before bed.
  • Use easy and soft fabric for sleepwear.
  • Avoid scented cosmetics.
  • Avoid fragrances.
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks before bed.
  • Use a humidifier and keep your bedroom at a cool temperature.
  • Do not do any activity that increases your body temperature or blood flow.
  • Take care of your personal hygiene and change your bed sheets frequently.

Is there a treatment for nighttime itching?

There are so many medicines that are available over the counter. They are mild by nature and you can use it on anybody parts except eyes and genital area. Some of these over-the-counter medications are these.

  • Corticosteroid creams: i.e. hydrocortisone cream in 1% to 2.5% active
  • Allergy medications: i.e. diphenhydramine, fexofenadine, and cetirizine
  • General health supplements

In severe cases, prescription based medicines are used particularly for treating dry skin at night. Following are some examples of such medicines.

  • Corticosteroid creams or capsules
  • Antidepressant medicines
  • Immunosuppressants
  • Phototherapy
  • Gabapentin and pregabalin
  • Kappa opioid agonists
  • Hormone replacement therapy

You should immediately seek medical assistance when this nighttime itchiness goes severe. If it is related to dry skin or allergy, try to treat these initial things at the start. It is better to treat the pre-existing health conditions before going to the doctor.

A doctor will examine your skin and check if it is just itchiness or any other skin condition i.e. eczema, a fungal infection. You should go to a doctor when the itchiness shows up at night without any obvious reason and it doesn’t get better with time. If it is affecting your sleep and making you uncomfortable, you shouldn’t wait anymore. Seek medical assistance as soon as possible.


The author is a Medical Microbiologist and a healthcare writer. She is a post-graduate of Medical Microbiology and Immunology. She covers all content on health and wellness including weight loss, nutrition, and general health.

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