“Mommy! I need water!” One more glass of water is one of the most common ways for kids to delay bedtime. It’s a tactic that starts with toddlers and can continue well into the elementary school years. But if your child is constantly thirsty at night, it might be more than just a delaying trick. It could be that she’s really thirsty - and the air in her room could be the cause.
Dry air in the bedroom can do more than just make you thirsty; it can cause dry skin and chapped lips, and even impact breathing. But high humidity can have an equally detrimental impact on sleep. The ideal humidity level indoors is between 30 and 50 percent - humid enough to prevent dry skin, and dry enough to reduce allergens.
Problems With Low Humidity
Dry air can make you feel cooler, which is more conducive to sleep. But it can also make sleep difficult because of discomfort. Your body is 70% water, and that water is continually going out of the body and into the air - both by evaporating through the skin and by the moisture in your breath. When the air is dry, the water in the body evaporates more quickly. You can get dehydrated much more quickly in low humidity, and even if you’re drinking plenty of water, you’ll notice symptoms of early dehydration.
Dry skin, chapped lips, and itchy eyes are some of the most obvious and common symptoms. Extremely dry skin can develop small cracks or a rash, which can itch or lead to infection. Chapped lips and itchy eyes aren’t usually dangerous in themselves, but low humidity can also cause irritation in the mucus of the throat and nasal passages, which can lead to discomfort and difficulty breathing. For a sensitive child, severely low humidity can even cause a bloody nose or a cough. If you have a cold, dry air will aggravate symptoms, making the runny nose and cough worse.
Low humidity also makes you more likely to catch a cold - the mucous lining of the nose that filters out viruses and bacteria becomes less effective as it dries out. This means that more germs can get into the body, so colds and viruses are more common in low humidity. Viruses also survive longer in low humidity, which is another reason why cold and flu season is the time of year when humidity is lowest.
Problems with High Humidity
High humidity, however, can be even more of a problem for sleep than low humidity. The number one way your body regulates temperature is by sweat - evaporating water from the skin. In humid air, the water can’t evaporate as fast, since there’s already so much water in the air. This means you can’t cool off. Your core temperature stays high, which removes one of the two primary triggers (temperature and darkness) that tell your brain it’s time to sleep. Without the ability to cool your core temperature, your child might lie awake tossing and turning, insisting she’s too hot to sleep.
High humidity can also cause an increase in allergens. Mold and dust mites particularly thrive in humidity above 50%, and both of those can have a negative impact on breathing. High humidity can also make your nose feel stuffy even if it isn’t, which can impact breathing.
How to Fix Humidity Levels
For low humidity, you need to add more water to the air. This doesn’t need to be complicated; a bowl of hot water in the bedroom at night will evaporate and add moisture to the air. Boiling water on the stove or taking a hot shower will also add water to the environment in your home, although not necessarily to the bedroom (depending on where it’s located in relation to the other rooms). However, the simplest and best long-term way to increase humidity in the bedroom is to use a humidifier. Be aware, however, that humidifiers can cause problems of their own. The inside of a humidifier is a dark, wet place: a perfect environment for mold to grow. If mold grows inside your humidifier and you continue using it, it will shoot spores directly into the air your child breathes and spreading mold all over your child’s room. Check and clean the inside of the humidifier regularly, and if you see any signs of mold, such as dark spots or fuzziness, clean it thoroughly and disinfect it before you use it again.
A vaporizer is another way to increase humidity. The only difference between a vaporizer and a humidifer is that a vaporizer uses boiling water to disperse mist into the air, while a humidifier uses cold water. Humidifiers are more likely to get mold, although there’s a risk of mold with vaporizers too - and both of them should be cleaned twice a month. Vaporizers also are dangerous if you have young children, since they can spill boiling water and cause burns.
If the humidity in your house is too high, you can use a dehumidifier. A dehumidifier draws moisture out of the air by blowing air over cooling coils, which cause the water in the air to condense and collect in a pan. If you don’t want to buy a machine specifically for the purpose of lowering humidity, you can also just turn up the air conditioning, which will also cause moisture to condense when it cools the air. A fan will also help lower humidity, and it has the added bonus of cooling you directly by increasing air flow.
Even with the perfect level of humidity, your child will probably still want just one more glass of water before bed. But when you know the air is neither too dry nor too moist, you can rest assured that your child’s desire for water will be easily satisfied.