Itching can be experienced any time of the day however, it has been discovered that itching tends to worsen around nightfall (nocturnal pruritus). This can be very exasperating especially when it affects the usual sleep cycles.
What exactly causes scalp itching at night and why does it tend to exaggerate at this time? Here, you’ll discover causes, symptoms, and treatments. You are also going to learn why it aggravates during nighttime.
To begin the discussion, we would like to make it clear that, disorders, conditions or diseases that can cause scalp itchiness problems during the day can also cause it during the night.
However, many studies and researches have shown that this condition usually can worsen at night (though this nighttime aggravation is not common in everybody).
Therefore, before we uncover causes, let us start by exploring these theories to clarify what may lead intense scalp nocturnal pruritus.
Why it intensifies at night?
To be able to give clear reasons why this is common, here are the common theories you need to know.
1. Circadian Rhythm (Internal Clock)
The circadian rhythm or internal lock refers physical, mental, and behavioral changes your body goes through within 24-hour period on daily basis. These changes respond to your light or dark environment, that is why they vary during the day or nighttime.
Some hormones do increase during specific times of the day and may influence certain body actions. Therefore, some processes that may independently or mutually contribute to or aggravate a scalp itch at night:
2. Water Loss
Water loss through the skin usually increases as you sleep. This can lead to dry itchy skin or make the skin to be more prone to the notorious irritants.
3. Raised temperature
Skin temperature usually tends to rise during this time, this can aggravate itching in the body through increasing activities on your skin.
4. Decrease in corticosteroid levels
The levels of corticosteroids decrease during nighttime. This will lead to temporary dropping of anti-inflammatory effect resulting to increase in itching with skin conditions causing inflammation.
5. Parasympathetic activity
Usually, parasympathetic activity increases at night whereas sympathetic activities increases in the morning. These two changes in the autonomic nervous system can contribute to itching anywhere in the body or intensify it.
6. Natural pain-relieving agents
When the circadian rhythm is deformed, natural pain relieving agent may increase at night instead of increasing in the morning. Reduced pain is usually related to increased sensitivity to this issue.
7. Cytokine and prostaglandin
In unbalanced circadian rhythm, itching in the body can be due to cytokine and prostaglandin. Substances such as interleukin (IL-2, IL-8, and IL-31) can affect the inflammatory outcome of your skin.
8. Reduced Stimulation
Normally as we sleep, the energy and stimulus levels in our body usually go down. This generally makes our body or rather skin to become more conscious of conditions such as itching however how mild it may seem to be.
If this is summed up with severe skin conditions, your sleep patterns may be disturbed. “Without a proper REM cycle, you can experience changes in mood and physical symptoms,” says Doctorshealthpress.com.
9. Bed linen and nighttime clothing
This issue both in men and women can also be associated with your bed, bed linen and your clothing before you tire to bed. Some insects such as lice can hide on the bed, in the bed line or even in the clothing.
According to Healthtype.com, “Some insects are night feeders and are therefore more likely to cause symptoms at night.” If you have house mite allergy, then you may also experience itching worsening at night since these organisms often invest in the mattress and become active at this time. Wool blankets can also cause inflammation in some skin conditions
Most of the three discussed conditions above usually aggravate nocturnal pruritus, although only a few may directly cause the problem. This means that there are other primary causes whose symptoms can be worsened by the above conditions (they usually aggravate already existing itching condition).
Causes of scalp nocturnal pruritus
Scalp nocturnal pruritus may be due to something that started during the daytime and extends to nighttime. It can also involve something specifically affecting the whole body or specific to scalp only at night.
Here are the common causes:
1. Skin conditions
Itchy scalp at night can be caused by certain skin diseases such as psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, Seborrheic dermatitis, hives and dry scalp skin (xeroderma). These skin conditions can lead to itchiness and hair loss. There is wide range of factors that can trigger these skin condition but many of them are treatable.
2. Systemic diseases
Various chronic diseases can lead to very itchy scalp at night. Diseases such as chronic kidney disorder, liver, and blood disorders are associated with this problem. Chickenpox can also lead to intense itching all over the body including on areas where it has affected you including on your head.
3. Insect bites
This can be another common cause. Insects such as mosquitos, bed bugs, mites, and lice can raid your scalp while you are sleeping leading cause itchiness or increase its intensity. Some of these insects are night-feeders and therefore their increased activities during this time can lead to nocturnal pruritus or worsen it, if already existing.
4. Certain medications
Some medications can also increase or cause very itchy scalp as their side effect. You might have taken them during the day or when you go to bed, they can still lead to nocturnal pruritus all over your body including scalp. Examples of such medications include opioid analgesics, statins and allopurinol medications and more.
When there is increased activity of the thyroid gland, this may be associated with abnormal thickening of the skin. This may result in red patches on the skin and may lead to nocturnal pruritus.
6. Hot Showers
Remember, usually our skin get dry when exposed to high temperature and hot showers could lead to dryness. A hot shower will wash away the protective oil layer in your scalp leaving it very dry which could be the reason for the itchy sensation.
The following are less common causes:
- Pregnancy and menopause
- Anxiety and stress
- Nerve Disorders such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis
- Skin cancer
Signs and symptoms
The major symptom is the urge to scratch the scalp skin. There are also cases where this condition does occur alongside other visible symptoms such as redness, dryness, patches, and bumps.
People also have cases when the visible signs may not be seen, especially itchy scalp due to internal conditions. The seriousness of the symptoms occurring alongside this condition will depend on the causes.
This problem may be a symptom of a serious health condition that can be life-threatening and thus, any symptom must be taken seriously, whether mild or severe. You may not know the underlying health risk! Read on to explore the most of the effective remedies.
How to relieve nighttime scalp itch?
You can attempt to relieve this itch following the below remedies which can even prevent the reoccurrence of this bothering condition.
- Always use unscented soaps since antibacterial and perfumed soaps can draw the moisture from your scalp skin causing itchiness
- Make sure to bathe in the evening to get rid of oil, sweat, and dead skin cells build-up on your scalp. Use lukewarm water (or apply a cold compress) since hot water can make your skin dry leading to more problems
- Moisturize your body using moisturizer meant for dry skins. Moisturizing your scalp skin after bathing or shower will help relieve itchiness and top up your skin oil.
- Make sure to also frequently change your bedsheets. If you can’t afford this, then you can expose your bed linen to direct sunlight to get rid of dust mites and bacteria.
- You can also use a mattress protector or flip the mattress weekly to remove microscopic organisms. If you are well, then you may need to change the mattress.
- Use lightweight fabrics that cannot raise your body temperature. Remember as your body temperature rises, the itching may also aggravate.
- It is also very important to sleep in a well-ventilated room to reduce body temperature and sweating that may stimulate the dry itchy scalp.
- Call for a pest control agent to get rid of lice, fleas, scabies mites that may lead to a very itchy scalp at night.
- Avoid scratching your itchy scalp skin. Scratching can spread bacterial infections. In addition, make sure your nails are cut short to avoid spreading infections.
- There are also wonderful home products that can be used to reduce or prevent scalp itch at night. They include; coconut oil, lemon juice, tea tree oil, baking soda, aloe vera, apple cider vinegar, neem oil and lavender oil, and more.
In some cases, the remedies discussed above may not be adequate enough to reduce or prevent itchy scalp at night. In these circumstances, the itching may be due to an underlying skin disease or more chronic conditions.
Therefore, your doctor may recommend various treatment options depending on specific itchy scalp causes. Below are treatments options that your doctor may recommend:
- Application of antihistamines to relieve severe itchy scalp due to allergies.
- Corticosteroids can also be prescribed to reduce scalp itch due to imbalance circadian rhythm.
- Calcineurin inhibitors are also alternatives for corticosteroids. They work by suppressing the immune activity.
- The application of phototherapy with some wavelength of UV light can also be applicable. This can also help to relieve the menace of itching on the scalp.
- In cases of psychogenic, anti-depressants therapies can also aid the relief of skin itching anywhere on your body including the scalp.
When to call a doctor
If all the above attempts fail to bear any fruit, contact your doctor for further guidance or stronger medications since the itching in scalp at night may be due to severe veiled medical conditions that can be life threating.
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