Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Good night, sweet prince

You may have noticed there's some sort of election going on. I am doing my best to ignore it-- having, though, voted this morning-- because it'll only increase my stress level. I don't know exactly why, but politics is one of those things that triggers instant stress. Whichever side you're on. I'm on one side, and the things that get said by the extreme members of the other side seem so ridiculous you'd laugh them off, if these people hadn't shown themselves capable in the past of doing what they propose.

So, please, let me not look at the electoral results until tomorrow morning. Then the night won't be so bad.

If you're like me-- that is, you have eczema-- you wake up some morning wondering what the hell happened while you were asleep. The skin on your hands, or your scalp, will be torn, and your sheets will be speckled with blood. Because of what you ate the day before, or because you're stressed about exams, or a relationship, or modern life, your body decided to have a scratching fit while on autopilot.

This behavior is well-documented in sleep and itch research. By chance today I came across an editorial written on the topic by Robert Sack and Jon Hanifin at Oregon Health and Sciences University. I think the piece might become open-access at some point. The neat thing-- two review papers in the journal issue cover the topic of skin disorders and sleep problems. I can't wait to read them. It's twisted, but I get off on learning that researchers are out there studying stuff that has happened to me personally.

For one: the itch of eczema--rather, the scratching--has, at times, severely affected my sleep. There have been periods when I have to have a good scratch before I can get to sleep, and then once I'm asleep, I partially wake up some time later, scratching the hell out of some body part, dreaming that by doing so I'm solving a vital problem. I used to do this a lot in college and grad school while I was taking physics or math courses. At the end of the night, you may have spent eight hours in bed, but only five of them in anything resembling restful sleep.

One of the reviews in this journal discusses how night-time scratching might, in kids, lead to ADHD.

The editorial also drops two nuggets of information. One: that it's well-known that at night, the blood vessels in your skin dilate (get bigger) in order to radiate more heat away, so you can lower your core body temperature. As I mentioned in my previous post, I find that alcohol, hot peppers, and exercise, all of which dilate your blood vessels, cause me to itch. So, every night, my body may be doing the same thing to itself.

Two: that although doctors regularly prescribe antihistamines for kids and adults with eczema, possibly in the hope that they'll reduce histamine levels and inflammation, there's no evidence that antihistamines reduce itch. They do, however, make you feel a bit drowsy, so they might help you go to sleep. I've found antihistamines to be of no use for anything, myself.

I'll read those reviews and see what I can learn. I'll be interested particularly in what Gil Yosipovitch at Wake Forest University is doing-- I read something in the NY Times a couple years ago about his International Forum for the Study of Itch, and they had some videos showing sleeping people scratching themselves silly. The reader was supposed to be aghast, but I just thought: "That could be me on camera!"

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