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Itchy skin at night this summer? Here's why

If you are waking up throughout the night to itch, you might just need to make a simple change to your environment - like your summer skincare routine, your duvet, or central heating. Sometimes though, itchy skin at night is a sign of an underlying problem. 

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Why is my skin itchy at night? 

Itching at night isn't usually something to worry about, but it can be annoying and disruptive if it's happening a lot. Your instinct to scratch can wake you up and disturb your sleep, leaving you feeling groggy the next day. Scratching a lot can also result in broken, sore and bleeding skin.  

According to the Cadogan Clinic skin specialist Dr Sophie Momen, itchy skin at night is known as nocturnal pruritis. "This is a common skin concern and can be very troubling to people. It can have a large effect on sleep, which can have a knock-on effect the next day." 

What causes itchy skin at night?  

Both medical and lifestyle factors can trigger nighttime skin itching. Perhaps you find this is only a problem in summer when the weather warms, it crops up as an issue every now and then, or it's become a recent ongoing issue that you can't quite work out. 

In some ways, a little itchiness at night is normal. "Your skin becomes drier overnight because it loses moisture," explains Dr Momen. Dry skin can become irritated, triggering itchiness as a sign that it's not entirely happy. 

Hormonal changes at night are also a factor. During this time, your body doesn't produce as many hormones as it does during the day, as part of your circadian rhythm (or body clock). This includes the hormones that reduce inflammation. This is a kind of swelling that's triggered by the immune system, and it can sometimes cause itchiness1.  

These are some of the normal processes your body goes through. However, if your sleep is suffering or your skin is becoming sore and uncomfortable as a result, it's worth checking if there's something more going on. 

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Common causes to address 

Anyone's skin can become itchy at night due to several factors, Dr Momen explains: 

  • External factors have increased your body temperature - for example, if you've recently switched to a warmer duvet. This increases blood flow to the skin. 

  • External factors have made your skin drier - for example, if you're leaving your central heating on overnight in winter. 

  • You're feeling stressed - stress can trigger itching2. You're more likely to notice this at night when you have fewer distractions.  

Common causes in summer 

Itchy skin at night isn't just a summer problem, but for lots of people this season can kickstart this annoying, sleep-disturbing sensation: 

  • Time in the sun  - even if you don't burn, the sun's rays can make your skin drier than normal. Dry skin is weak and easily damaged, which might allow toxins to pass through into your body. Itching can be part of your immune system's response to this threat. 

  • Sunburn - burning your skin creates a lot of damage. It may lead to neurogenic inflammation, where immune cells are sent straight to the damaged area, causing pain and itching. 

  • Hay fever - if you're allergic to summer pollen, this can blow through open windows and enter your nose and mouth during the night. This can cause itching along with other classic symptoms

  • Heatwaves - switching to a lighter duvet can help keep your body temperature cooler. Be mindful that fans and air conditioning could also trigger itching by drying your skin too much. Find more advice for sleeping during a heatwave here.

These summer triggers can usually be resolved by taking straightforward measures, like protecting and moisturising your skin, and adjusting your bedroom set up. Although less likely, there are some other summer hazards.  

If you suddenly experience a lot of itching and tiny red dots after swimming or wading in natural bodies of water - like lakes, rivers or the ocean – there's a small chance that parasites have entered your skin. With the current UK sewage crisis, be especially careful of contaminated waters this summer. 

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Skin conditions or allergies 

If you know you have a skin condition like eczema, psoriasis or urticaria, it's normal for this to become itchier at night - even if it's giving you minimal bother in the day. 

"Skin conditions such as eczema can be itchier at night," says Dr Momen. "This is because we tend to be warmer when we're in bed, meaning there is increased blood flow to the skin. Also, when we are relaxed in bed there are less things to distract us, so we become more aware of symptoms such as itch."

Although many view eczema as a childhood disease, it is possible to develop it later in life. In fact, according to the National Eczema Association, 1 in 4 adults report that their symptoms first appeared in adulthood3. See your doctor if you suspect your symptoms are something more than nighttime itching. 

More serious causes of itching at night  

If you don't have a known skin condition, and suddenly experience a lot of itching along with other symptoms like red rashes, blisters, and bumpy patches of skin, you may be having an allergic reaction. The most common cause of this is taking a new medication. Contact your doctor and follow their advice. 

 "Itchy skin at night can also be a sign of underlying conditions," warns Dr Momen. These are wide ranging and can be very serious. Before you start to worry, know that just itching at night as a standalone symptom is unlikely to be a sign of the following. You can find full information on the main warning signs for each condition through the links below. 

If you have concerns, don't delay a trip to the doctors. They can put your mind at ease if it's nothing serious, or further investigate a problem to give you the best chances of recovery or treatment. 

How to cure itchy skin at night 

As a standalone issue, itchy skin at night is usually nothing to worry about - but that doesn't make it less of a nuisance, less sore if you break the skin, or less disruptive if it's keeping you awake. 

Here Dr Momen shares her tips for reducing the itch and soothing the damage: 

1. Keep your bedroom cool, around 20oC. 

2. Avoid hot baths and showers before bed - opt for cool temperatures. 

3. Apply a moisturiser designed for eczema prone skin to affected areas. 

4. Emollients with menthol in can be kept in fridge and may be cooling and relieve itchiness. 

"If your symptoms last for more than 2-4 weeks, then I would advise seeking advice from your doctor or a dermatologist, as they can find out the cause. You should seek advice sooner if your itch is accompanied by night sweats or unexplained weight loss." 

Further reading 

  1. Podder et al: Nocturnal pruritus and sleep disturbance associated with dermatologic disorders in adult patients.  

  2. Lavery et al: Nocturnal pruritus: the battle for a peaceful night’s sleep.  

  3. National Eczema Association: Eczema stats.  

Article history

The information on this page is peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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