It happens to millions of people, night after night. Dermatologists say there are many possible explanations, and — encouragingly — many solutions to this problem.
"The primary reason for one's awareness of this problem at night is because it is quiet, there are no distractions, and the mind can truly focus on what the body is feeling," says dermatologist/psychologist Richard Fried, M.D., Ph.D."In a sense, everything that you may well have been experiencing during the day is magnified in the absence of anything to divert your attention."
A CHANGE IN PRODUCTS According to Dr. Fried, barring any medical condition, one of the culprits could be an allergy to your laundry detergent, fabric softener or your clothes. Try switching to a fragrance-free laundry detergent, such as All Free Clear, as a first-line solution. Removing fragrance eliminates a major skin sensitizer. Wearing sleep garments that are designed to calm the skin is another option.
A clothing line called DermaSmart has been clinically proven to reduce nighttime itchiness. The garments are made of a super-lightweight, microfiber fabric, and have flat seams and no inner labels or tags that might cause discomfort. The texture of the fabric soothes and calms the skin. The clothing also has a moisture management system to wick away perspiration, as perspiration often contributes to nighttime skin discomfort.
A bedding line called DermaTherapy may also help you to achieve a better night's sleep. In a clinical study, the bedding was shown to significantly improve itching and the severity of atopic dermatitis and eczema. The fabric is made with a unique fiber that wicks moisture and minimizes friction likely to irritate the skin.
Dr. Fried says that various over-the-counter and prescription creams can also help calm localized itchiness, provided the cause is determined by a dermatologist.
"There are specific skin diseases that can cause profound itching that intensifies at night. These include eczema, atopic dermatitis and psoriasis," he explains.
"Infants and children with these diseases can cry through the night, tearing at their skin to stop the itching. Along with helping them to have better-quality sleep, this itching needs to be addressed as it can make the skin condition much worse."
GET TO THE SOURCE "The skin is an incredibly complex organ," Dr. Fried says. "What bothers one person's skin may have no effect at all on another. But it is extremely important to get at the cause of that 'creepy, crawly' feeling. If it is a medical condition, treatment options are available."
The sensations of something crawling on the skin can also be a sign of restless leg syndrome, another condition for which there is a treatment.
Dr. Fried stresses that there are also unglamorous causes for nighttime itchiness. These include allergic reactions to dust mites and the presence of bed bugs, which have emerged as a rapidly growing urban problem.
"You need to examine your mattress carefully," he says.
If these solutions still leave you with the nighttime creepy crawlies, see a dermatologist to help determine the problem.