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Hot temperatures and high humidity make it a lot harder to sleep. And when you can’t rest comfortably and sleep soundly, that makes everything else you do harder.
So, what’s to be done? It is possible to sleep well throughout a heatwave. It just takes a little planning and some attention to sleep-friendly habits.
Get ahead of the heat spike
You know that keeping your sleep environment cool is key to getting a good night’s rest at any time of year. In the summer—and especially when the temperature soars—it takes more effort to keep your home and bedroom comfortable. Don’t wait until lights out to keep the shades closed during the day, run fans and air conditioning well before your bedtime, and you’ll keep your bedroom a cool retreat. The ideal room temperature for sleeping for most people is around 65-67 degrees Fahrenheit. But everyone is different, so pay attention to identifying exactly what temperature best suits your sleep.
Dehydration interferes with our ability to sleep well. People who snore or have obstructive sleep apnea are especially prone to the sleep-depriving effects of dehydration. Did you know that being sleep deprived can also make you more at risk for dehydration? That’s because a hormone—vasopressin—that’s an important regulator of fluid in the body is produced in abundance during some of our later sleep cycles. Cutting sleep short can cause a lack of vasopressin that makes dehydration more likely—especially when it’s hot and you’re sweating a lot. Drink water consistently throughout the day. If you drink too much of your daily water in the evening, you’ll wind up waking up to go to the bathroom throughout the night.
Eat a light dinner
For a lot of us, the heat takes away our appetite. And the middle of a heatwave is the last time any of us want to turn on our ovens. The light dinners that suit hot nights can make it easier for your body to transition into sleep. On the other hand, when your body is busy digesting a large meal, falling asleep can take longer—and you’re more likely to sleep restlessly.
If hot weather cuts into your sleep time, you’re going to feel it during the day. Naps aren’t always an option, but if your schedule allows, a daytime nap can help you replenish that lost rest. There’s a way to nap—and also a when to napping—that make the difference between a nap that refreshes you and a nap that disrupts your evening sleep. I’ve written in-depth about napping before. The quick takeaway? There are two optimal nap durations: 20 minutes (a quick snooze that energizes you for a few hours without post-nap grogginess) and 90 minutes (the length of a full sleep cycle, with all its restorative benefits.) The ideal time for a nap? Approximately 7 hours after you wake for the day.
Take a warm shower or bath
A warm soak before bed helps a lot of us fall asleep. That’s because it enhances the evening temperature drop that the body undergoes in the evening as the body prepares to sleep. It might sound counterintuitive to recommend a warm shower or bath on our hottest nights, but it’s likely to soothe you and help transition your body toward sleep. It doesn’t need to be a scorching hot shower—go ahead and select a gently warm temperature that feels good on your skin.
Use a cool—not a cold—compress
Cooling your skin on a hot day provides some instantaneous relief from the heat. A cool compress on your shoulders, neck, arms, and torso can help you relax before bed and make your way more easily into sleep for the night. Why do I recommend cool, not cold? The body releases heat through its extremities at night, as part of the natural cooling that accompanies nightly rest. To do so effectively, the blood vessels on the skin become larger, what’s known as vasodilation. Cold temperatures on the skin have the opposite effect—they narrow blood vessels, making it harder for the body’s internal heat to be released. A tepid, or a slightly warm, compress can relief discomfort without compromising your body’s ability to shed heat before and during sleep.
Double down on your healthy sleep habits when it’s not scorching hot
If you run up a sleep debt throughout the summer, you’re less prepared to weather the tricky sleeping that comes with a heatwave. Take advantage of all the pleasant summer days and nights to strengthen your sleep routine, and pay down any sleep debt. Stick to consistent bedtimes and wake times. Avoid over-consumption of caffeine, and steer clear of caffeine and other stimulants after about 2 p.m. Eat healthfully, and get plenty of exercise.
Here’s a big one: manage your light exposure carefully. One of the sometimes-overlooked contributors to sleep problems during the summer is all the additional daylight. The long summer days are great, but the early sunrise and late sunset mean the body gets less of the darkness it needs to make melatonin. In addition to interfering with sleep, short nights and prolonged daylight can also lead to “the summer blues,” a reverse seasonal affective disorder that happens in the summer.
By all means, enjoy the sunshine. And get plenty of it in the morning, when it can help make you alert and strengthen the circadian biorhythms that also help you sleep. It’s always important to manage your evening light exposure, and it’s especially so in the summer.
Stay cool, and sleep well!