Sophie Bostock, PhD
How to get to sleep when it's hot
This post was inspired by another trip to the ITV This Morning studio, via Skype, this week. Holly and Phil were asking about sleep in the warm weather.. sadly, this jinxed the sunshine, and it's been raining ever since, but at least you'll know for next time..
We rely on a daily fall in our core body temperature as a cue for sleep. If the bedroom is too warm, we not only struggle to fall into deep sleep, but we’re more likely to wake up during the night. So what can you do to minimise sleep disruption when things hot up?
1. Block out the heat during the day
Keep the curtains drawn and the window closed during the heat of the day, to prevent sunlight warming everything up. (If you didn’t close your curtains when you left your bedroom, feel free to go and do that now.)
2. Allow air to circulate at night
Keep the window open if you can. Ear plugs may help to drown out any outside noise. A fan can also help, both to keep the air moving and for white noise, to drown out outside noise (or snoring). If the air temperature is very high, keeping ice cubes or an ice pack in front of the fan could help increase the cooling effect.
3. Take a warm bath or shower at least an hour before bed
It sounds unlikely, but the pro-sleep ‘Warm Bath Effect’ is an actual scientific thing. A warm bath can help you relax, and it may be that increased circulation to the extremities actually helps to cool the core (internal) body temperature.
4. Ditch the duvet
Swap a high tog duvet for a low tog summer duvet, or just take out the quilt and use the cover. Using a cover can have a calming effect, but you may find yourself more comfortable with no covers at all. As for pyjamas, the jury's out. Some say that cotton/breathable pyjamas are better than sleeping in your birthday suit since they can wick the sweat away. It may be a case of experimenting to see which you prefer.
5. Stay hydrated
In warm weather, drink more water throughout the day. Dehydration can interfere with restful sleep. Research also suggests that lack of sleep reduces vasopressin, a hormone which controls fluid balance, so you’re actually more likely to be dehydrated if you slept badly last night. Avoid drinking too much water in the hour before bed though, since this could make for multiple bathroom breaks.
6. Be tactical about co-sleeping.. time for a sleep holiday?
Two warm bodies will conserve heat more than one. If you usually share the bed with a partner, child or favourite pet, it could be time for an honest conversation. If you both get more sleep, it will almost certainly be a good thing for your relationship, furry, or otherwise.
7. Buffering the mattress
Some mattresses retain more heat than others - for example, memory foam tends to hug the body contours and absorb heat. A mattress topper or pad made out of breathable fibres could help buffer that effect. If you need to replace your mattress, you could also try one designed to regulate body temperature.
8. Keep it dark
In addition to temperature, light has a strong influence on our body clocks. Long evenings and early dawns in the summer send an alerting signal to the brain, and make it harder to sleep. Black out blinds or an eye mask may help you to sleep more easily. If you get up to go to the bathroom at night, stick to a dim night light, or use your phone.
9. Warm air rises
It sounds obvious, but if you’re lucky enough to have a choice over which floor to sleep on, the lower one is likely to be cooler in the summer. If you live in an attic room, it may be that lockdown restrictions are easing just in time for you to phone a friend for a visit..
10. Try and enjoy the ride
Sleepless nights are no fun, but on the plus side, a steamy night will probably be followed by a perfect day for enjoying the sunshine (and that ice-cream). In the UK, you can be pretty confident the hot weather is a short term phenomenon. From a mindset perspective, if you can just accept a temporary blip in your sleep, rather than letting frustration take hold, it’s much more likely that sleep will catch up with you.
Don't forget, if you can't sleep, don't make it a battle. Get out of bed, and read a book until your eyes feel sleepy tired. Only then get back into bed. Your sleep the next night will be deeper to compensate, and you're more likely to maintain a positive sleep-bed connection.