The Link Between Psoriasis and Sleep

Can there be a link between psoriasis, the itchy, flaky skin condition - and quality of sleep? I have a look at the evidence... 

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

It's been a frantic couple of weeks. On the Monday I set off for a couple of days to Warwick Castle for a short break with the kids. I didn't sleep the Sunday, because I kept thinking I had to get up early on Monday. I didn't sleep on the Monday night because youngest daughter got overwhelmed being away from home and wanted to sleep with me in the big bed. She moves about a lot in her sleep, so I was awake from 4am. 

Tuesday afternoon we got home, and I prepared for my trip to Paris on the Thursday, again getting almost no sleep in between. No sleep again in Paris, because it was hot and someone in the next room from me in the hotel woke me up coming back from a night out slamming their door and putting on a (loud) movie at 2am. 

On the way back from Paris, I noticed my scalp was intensely itchy and that I was self conscious about the flakes falling onto my shoulders. My diet had been good, so it couldn't be that. I had travelled, but I couldn't really say I'd been stressed. I drank water as we walked around, so I don't think I was dehydrated. And with a one-hour time difference, it wasn't as if I was jet-lagged. 

Could it have been the sleep? 

According to science, definitely. 

Apparently, there's a lot of evidence, scientific and anecdotal, that sleep can cause your psoriasis to flare up. At home, I protect my sleep with blue-light-blocking glasses, early bedtimes and no screens after 8pm. But when I'm travelling, I don't always have the luxury of knowing I'm settling in for a good night's sleep.  Which explains why I was absolutely elated my psoriasis was fading on the Saturday, but back to intense itching and wearing white clothes again by the following weekend. 

A Brazilian study in 2012 found that when mice with or without psoriasis were deprived of sleep, the inflammatory response in the body increased, and the anti-inflammatory response decreased. They found that this response normalised after 48 hours of rebound sleeping, but summarised that lack of sleep should be considered a risk factor for the onset of psoriasis. 

Having suffered with psoriasis for 25 years, I also know that it can work the other way around, and that psoriasis itself can actually stop you getting a good night's sleep. 

The nights I've been Googling for something that could ease my itchy, burning skin until the early hours - it plays on your mind and sends you straight to your Amazon shopping basket. Psoriasis can also be linked with IBS - so being up all night with stomach ache or rumbles in your tummy is another way your sleep can be impacted. And then there's the discomfort. People are shocked when I tell them that my scalp psoriasis used to be so severe that I'd wake myself up digging my nails into my scalp and scratching away, and find blood under my nails in the morning. My husband would wake me up to stop me doing it. It's terrible, but it doesn't make for a good night's sleep. 

And then you can guess what happens. You itch, you scratch, you feel like rubbish and you don't sleep. Then your lack of sleep pushes up the inflammatory response in the body and aggravates the psoriasis. Which itches and burns and stops you sleeping. It's a cycle. 

So what can you do? 

If you're trying to heal your psoriasis, take it from me that you need to make sleep a priority. As much a priority as sunlight and healthy food, if not more so. 

Here are some ways you can help protect your sleep if you are trying to ease your psoriasis: 

Invest in a pair of blue light blocking glasses (these are the ones I use). They'll make your brain think it's dusk and your sleep hormones will kick in, giving you a head start on bed time. 

Educate yourself about how necessary sleep is. I love the book How We Sleep by Matthew Walker. It's a real eye opener, and you won't look at bedtime in the same way again. Sleep is absolutely crucial to our health and this book will arm you with the science of how your body works to help you get more of it.

Go to bed at the same time every night, and actually go to bed. Don't watch TV, movies or open your laptop. Turn off your phone, so you don't end up scrolling through your notifications. All this will wake you back up. Make time to sleep. Decide that at bedtime it's sleep time and prioritise your snoozing.

Moisturise your psoriasis, overnight. I use either Lush's Dream Cream or, more commonly Pure Potions Skin Salvation Ointment. I massage it into my psoriasis patches and then sleep with an old towel over my pillow. It helps calm the itching, meaning you're more likely to sleep better. Then I just shower it all off in the morning. 

Keep your nails short. I cut my nails really short, and this means that if I do accidentally scratch my scalp, the damage done to my skin is minimal. 

Try supplements. I found CDB oil fantastic at helping me sleep. (You can get 10% off the brand I use by the way, with this link and the code'JO10'). A few drops under my tongue at the end of the day and my sleep is honestly better. 

Avoid caffeine - I gave up caffeine completely after I found it gave me gut problems (burping, stomach pains) every time I drank it. Now I drink camomile or peppermint tea, or water. Caffeine is not your friend when you're trying to sleep, or, in my opinion, if you're trying to heal psoriasis at all.

I hope that these tips work for you - this is the sleep toolkit that I put into place once I feel like I'm out of balance. I've already started doing it and I feel better already. Let me know what you think in the comments below! 

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