Night Itchies and Cortisol Levels

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The itching that inevitably comes with Steroid Withdrawal seems to amplify at nighttime is a regular visitor, although unwelcomed! It was much worse in the earlier months, but is still very present in my 5th month. The itchiest spots are the folds of my arms, wrists, neck, inner calves & inner thighs, ears and jawline. These are also my worst, most damaged areas. The itchiness was so intense before, like down-to-the-bone deep down itching. I’m not sure if the term “itching” gives the horror of the experience justice. The only thing I could do was scratch to give myself some relief. I attempted to push through the itching and not scratch for a few minutes in hopes it would pass. I couldn’t do it for more than 3 minutes — and this took all the will power I could muster. I’m entirely grateful those days are gone.

The itch at present is still pretty bothersome. It’s been getting worse as the warmer days of summer are coming. I have been using 3/4 sleeves and light scarves to mask my skin. I guess the good news is I think that I think things are looking better than they do. I’ve left the house with short sleeves thinking it’s no biggie and then realize how ragged it really looks when I’m out and about. I also get itchies when I’m stressed out, so keeping myself in check with deep breaths helps me regain control. I try to keep the itching at a minimum at night in a couple different ways. 

Dr. Rapaport has attributed the night time itch to lowering cortisol levels. In general, cortisol levels are at its peak around 9am and is at its lowest at midnight. This change throughout the day and night is caused by the amount of sunlight our bodies are receiving — aka circadian patterns. Here’s a chart showing this:

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Cortisol levels are highest during the daytime when our bodies are synhesizing UV rays for its production

The actual episodic bursts throughout the day correlate to our eating patterns (amongst other things). Levels increase soon after we’ve eaten, so snacking throughout the day is also a good idea. 

I also use something called Licorice Root. it’s a herb that prolongs the half-life of cortisol — or in simpler terms, keeps up your cortisol levels up. A naturally-occuring chemical found in Licorice Root called glycyrrhizic acid that prevents the breakdown of cortisol, which is done through enzymes (don’t ask me what kind of enzymes!). I’ve tried Licorice in tea form, pill form and tincture form. Pill form is the easiest – just pop ’em in and go. I don’t enjoy the taste of licorice so tea is a slow and painful way of getting it, although you can blend it with another herbal tea. Tincture is probably the best way to digest it, as tinctures are the most readily processed way to consume herbs for medicinal use. It has more “bio-availability.” I take LR throughout the evening. I start as early as 4:00pm and as late as 6:00pm depending on how I’ve been snacking and how bright it’s been outside (and well how mindful I am). 

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Licorice Root helps to keep up cortisol levels at night

Rapaport recommends antihistamines, particularly Atarax, to reduce itching and help with sleep. I personally use Benedryl, which didn’t work until month 4. Before that, I’d take it (more than the recommended dose) and I’d feel drowsy, but still too itchy to settle into bed.  Often I’d be up for 35 hours at a time. Those were the most bleak of times. I wasn’t sure how i was going to get through it. Now, I can manage sleeping at regular hours, but only with antihistamines. I’ve gone without a couple times and it was a total fail. The itch kept me up for most of the night. So for now, I will continue to use Benedryl alongside Licorice Root and regular snacking throughout the day (no problems with that!).

Even though I take Licorice Root, to say that I don’t itch at all would be false. Much of the itching happens when I get a deep nerve itch and I tend to it. Tending to it (ie. scratching) and applying pressure to the skin to relieve it produces a reaction in your body creating histamine and causing further itch.  However, I have noticed an overall pattern of more intense nerve itching when I’ve forgotten to take LR. 

Happy healing and less itchy days! xo.

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2 responses »

  1. I’m glad to hear that things are getting some better! I swear after the disrupted sleep of TSW, I would never take a full restful night’s sleep for granted. That’s crazy that you were up for 35 hours at a time!!! No one should have to deal with that! I like the graphic about the cortisol levels – this explains why I feel great and non-itchy in the morning and why trying to resist itching at night is futile. Also interesting about the licorice root. Very helpful info! Hope you are having an enjoyable weekend and not TOO itchy and able to do some fun things 🙂

  2. Have you ever tried using essential oils for your itching. Lavender is a natural antihistamine. I have my daughter take a bath with 2 drops of lavender before bed and really has decreased her itching. If she wakes up itching I have her put a drop in her hand with lotion and put that on and it really helps. Make sure you use 100% pure lavender or it will burn. If you want to learn more you can visit my website or e-mail me and I would be happy to share with you how we helped out daughter. Melaluca also helps with eczema.

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