Sleep and summer well-being

As much as we love the warmer season, it may be helpful to find ways to adjust your routines before bed to align with the changing season. During summer, a variety of factors can affect sleep such as the change in temperature, sleep schedules, as well as the real impact of daily work and life stresses, and this is coupled with the uncertainty around Covid-19. We spoke with Dr Estelle De Beer, Naturopathic Sleep Doctor at SleepDrops Sleep and Wellness Centre to share her insights and tips into how to boost well-being and how to sleep in hot weather.

Sleep and summer beach with sunrise

How to sleep better in summer

Warmer weather, longer days and making the most of the outdoors are what we love about summer, however it can often be exhausting. With heat and humidity on-occasion interfering with our sleep, we can find it too hot to sleep and waking more during the night.

Our sleep is controlled by our internal circadian rhythm (body clock) which responds to changes in light and temperature. Our sleep hormone, Melatonin, is released in darkness encouraging us to fall asleep and stay asleep. With longer summer daylight hours, Melatonin secretion is delayed, resulting in disrupted sleep times. 

Our body clock prefers routine, but during summer weekends and holidays, our sleep and wake times are often different, confusing our body clock. This phenomenon is called a ‘delayed sleep phase’ or ‘social jet-lag’ and is something that can affect us all year round – but often more-so in summer.

Despite these challenges, you can still get a great night’s sleep in summer, with a few smart adjustments to your behaviour and environment. Prioritising your sleep is important, as research shows eight hours of quality sleep is crucial for enhancing creativity, clearer thinking, a better mood, and positively impacts every aspect of our mental, emotional and physical health.

Make the most of the season by following these great tips on how to sleep when it’s too hot.

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An incandescent light bulb gives off 90% of its energy as heat, not light. Where-as (LED) lights put out 90% of the energy it uses as light. Switching to LED bulbs will make your room cooler and lower your energy bills too.  If you do use incandescent bulbs, turn them off well before bed-time for a cooler room.

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Cooler bedding can make all the difference to your sleep:

  • Sheets – Cotton or linen sheets help soak up sweat to keep you cool
  • Pillows – Pillows that have natural fibres are a better option for hot sleepers
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Try putting your bedsheets and pillowcases inside a plastic bag in the freezer for a few minutes, providing cool relief as you drift off to sleep.

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Stick with lightweight summer sleepwear in natural fibres. Research shows that wearing cooler fabrics, such as cotton or even lightweight wool, can help you sleep better in hot weather.

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Spinal alignment and skeletal support are just as important as comfort, to ensure a good night’s sleep. If you are especially hot in summer you will want a firmer mattress, so you don’t sink down into your mattress and get hotter.

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If you’re finding it too hot to sleep, try lowering your room temperature. The optimal temperature for a cool sleep is 16-21 degrees Celsius. A room that’s too humid can affect your sleep quality, so aim for 40% to 60% humidity.

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Open windows and turn on a fan to create a cross flow of air. Open all the doors in your house to keep air circulating. If it is breezy outside, use fans to accelerate and direct that breeze throughout your house. Try not to have the fan aimed directly at people, as this can cause a chill.

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Keep curtains and blinds closed to keep warm air out, while trapping cool air inside. Studies show that medium-coloured drapes, with white plastic backings, can keep rooms 33% cooler than other colours. Block out curtains, or an eye mask are your best defence against early sunrises, which will prevent you sleeping in.

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A drop in body temperature can induce sleepiness, so try a cool shower an hour before bed. Another option is dap yourself with a wet towel or herbal cooling towelettes.

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Dehydration symptoms such as headaches, muscle cramps and a dry mouth can keep you awake at night, so stay hydrated throughout the day for a better sleep. Keep a glass of water near your bed for those hot nights. Drinking a little cool water before you go to sleep may also bring down your body temperature.

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Avoid getting too much sun during the day, as sunburnt skin can stop you sleeping. Try cooling aloe vera on your skin before bed to refresh sunburn.

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Eating nutritious dinners rich in easily digestible foods such as salads, vegetables and fruit help the body generate less heat. Keep the house temperature down by cooking in the microwave or on the outdoor BBQ.

Avoid alcoholic beverages, as they increase body temperature and disrupt sleep patterns.

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Sweating at night could be a sign of a health problem. Menopause, anxiety, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), obesity, hyperthyroidism, sleep apnoea, insomnia and other conditions can all cause night sweats. Talk to your doctor to rule out any unknown medical causes.

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You and your doctor may also need to adjust your prescription medicine for a cooler night’s sleep. Night sweats are often a side effect of drugs to treat:

  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer (hormone therapy)

Your doctor could adjust the drug, dosage or time of day you take your meds to ease night sweats.

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Magnesium helps your body regulate body temperature, stay healthy and achieve deep, restorative sleep by calming and relaxing the nervous system. Foods such as almonds, cashews and peanut butter on toast are a good source of magnesium and may just make the perfect before snack for those prone to hunger in the night!

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