13 SLEEP TIPS FOR WHEN IT’S HOT AF
By Molly Apel
Reviewed by Emily Gonzalez, ND for Scientific Accuracy
Now that the hot weather is here, you might find that it’s hard to get a good night’s sleep. Heat can affect your sleep quality, as well as deliver all the health problems that sleep loss creates. Here’s what you should know about sleeping in a heatwave, plus tips to cool down and sleep better.
HOW DOES HEAT AFFECT SLEEP?
In order to get to sleep, your body’s core temperature has to drop. As that temperature drops, your body releases melatonin. Pretty soon, you’re catching some Zzzs. Unfortunately, this means if there’s no cool down, there’s no melatonin release, and your body never finishes the process that allows you to sack out.
You’ve probably noticed that sleeping hot makes you wake up a little groggy, but you might be surprised to learn how much keeping cool can protect your health. Research shows that overheating at night stresses the body. In fact in one study, people who slept in a hot environment woke up with higher than normal levels of cortisol (the stress hormone).
A lack of sleep makes your body generate more ghrelin (hunger hormone) and less leptin (the hormone that helps you feel fuller). Studies confirmed that the less sleep people had, the more their leptin levels dropped and ghrelin levels increased. These findings also support studies that find a connection between obesity and sleeping less than 6 hours per night.
There are a number of studies linking difficulty sleeping to a slew of health problems, like increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety, depression and even gut imbalances.
HOW TO GET A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP WHEN IT’S TOO HOT
If you can’t get to sleep on those hot summer nights, what can you do? Follow these tips that can make a big difference in dropping your body temperature, which will keep you cool all night so you can sleep.
COOL YOUR BODY
- Take a cold shower: If you can’t stand it cold, even water that’s cooler than usual helps. This lowers the temperature of your skin and eventually reduces your core body temperature.
- Wet your hair, hands and feet: Heat is lost more rapidly through your extremities, like your hands, feet and head. Wet your hair and soak your hands and feet in cool water before bed. A study showed that cooling the head and back helps maintain good sleep in hot weather.
- Evaporate the heat away: Lay wet washcloths, cold water or ice packs on your pulse points, neck, armpits and groin for short periods. These are places where your blood flows closest to the surface of your skin. The water will absorb heat from your body and then cool you as it evaporates.
- Get naked: If you have to wear something, choose lightweight, loose-fitting pajamas made out of natural fibers like cotton or linen that absorb sweat and allow the skin to breathe. Avoid synthetic fabrics that hold on to heat.
- Make a mist: Help your body more effectively dissipate heat by spritzing your face and body with a spray mister full of water. As the water evaporates, it boosts the natural cooling of your skin and the blood circulating beneath.
SLEEP IN A COOL PLACE
- Find a cave: Move your bed to a dark and cool area, like the basement or the north side of the house. Hot air rises, so try sleeping closer to (or on) the floor. Better yet, try a hammock, which would eliminate the issue of a hot mattress, allowing the air to circulate all around you as you sleep.
- Keep it dark: Cover your windows early in the afternoon to keep your room from heating up. Keep the lights off.
- Chill the air: Turn on the air conditioning if you have it. If not, sleep in front of a fan, open the bedroom door and the windows to create a cross-breeze. (If you have curtains, keep them closed.) Placing a tray of ice cubes in front of the fan will add some humidity, which cools the air blown around the room. Studies show fans are only effective if there is at least some humidity. If it’s hot and very dry, fans can be ineffective and actually raise body temperature, heart rate and your risk of dehydration.
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COOL DOWN YOUR BED
- Cool your blankets: Find some lightweight cotton sheets. Put away all the blankets. Stick your sheets, pillowcase and even your pillow (if it will fit) in the fridge or freezer, then pull them out just before bed to start your snooze feeling cool.
- Experiment with cooling tech: Companies like Chili Technologies develop cooling technology and claim their mattress pads and pillows actually cool you down when you sleep. If this summer is a scorcher, it might be worth checking out. There are also pajamas made with cooling fabrics that wick moisture away from the body.
- If you wake up hot: Flip your pillow over to the cool side. You can also get your body heat to escape by pulling the sheet off your hands and feet. Cool yourself with another spritz from your spray mister.
DON’T DO THIS
- Eat foods that mess with your temperature regulation: In the evening, stick to salads and cool foods rather than hot, heavy or spicy dinners. Chocolate and caffeinated drinks like tea, coffee and energy drinks will dehydrate you, so be sure to balance them with lots of water throughout the day. Avoid alcohol as it can actually make you feel hotter.
- Exercise in the evening: Do it in the early AM instead, before the day heats up. Exercise increases your internal temperature, so if you have to exercise in the evening, do it several hours before bedtime to give your body time to cool down.
In the heat of the summer, make sure to protect yourself from the health stress that comes with a lack of sleep. Follow these steps and regardless of how high the thermometer goes, at bedtime you’ll be out like a light. For more tips, find out how to sleep better with science-backed sleep hacks.