Mammoth’s resident sleep expert, Dr Jonathan Bloomfield addresses the issue that’s on everyone’s mind in the UK this summer . . . getting to sleep in the heat!
It has been a long, hot summer for many of us in the UK. While the arrival of warmer weather is usually greeted with great enthusiasm, it is clear that for many the prolonged warm spell has now left many people crying out for the arrival of Autumn so that they can get a good night’s sleep.
The longest heatwave in 40 years has regularly seen temperatures in excess of 30°C, which is a challenge during the day but an even greater nuisance at night. To help optimise our sleep, here are a few of my top tips…
- Pre-condition the bedroom
As part of your bedtime routine, start to try and chill the room some time before you’re going to bed. Make sure you have pulled the curtains by mid-afternoon, opened a window and doorway and allow for any type of draft to come through. Consider using an air purifier or air conditioner to treat the temperature and condition of the room, especially if your bedroom is south facing. A cheaper approach is to use a fan with a frozen bottle of water in front of it and it will help chill the room. It’s also handy to keep a temperature gauge in the bedroom and aim for a comfortable 16-18°.
- Shower before bed
This is good advice on several levels. Feeling clean and refreshed is good sleep preparation in hot and sticky weather but it also helps to stimulate a reduction in core body temperature – an essential part of falling asleep. Both warm and cold showers have their advantages and disadvantages, so I think it should be down to personal preference.
Warm showers can be comforting and help to de-stress the mind as well as cleanse the body. The after effect of drying off in ambient air is that this instigates a cooling process – although core temperature may take a little time to drop. Colder showers may help the body temperature fall much faster, but they can also increase stress and nervous system activation, which in some people may be over-stimulating. However, it may promote recovery onset thanks to a rush of endorphins in others.
- Air circulation
It’s going to be important to keep the room cool with any fresh air you can get. If it is safe, sleep with your bedroom window open. Ideally, you should also open other small windows on the upper floors of your house to create a through draught. Creating an airflow by leaving windows and internal doors open can help to draw heat away from the bedroom. Just be careful not to leave any windows open that may be inviting to unwanted intruders!
Get a fan for the bedroom, this not only helps to continuously circulate the air and keep the room temperature a bit cooler, the white noise they generate also helps to promote good sleep. If you are a particularly light sleeper and if any noise disturbs your sleep, consider wearing some earplugs to help block out the whirr, but keep the fan!
- Keep the house cool
During the day, keep all your blinds and curtains drawn to help block out the fierce glare of the sun. If you’re at home, keep as many windows open as possible, but remember to close any that may risk unwanted intruders before you head off to bed. Also, be careful to maintain your fire safety at home too and close windows and doors downstairs, plus remove any mirrors from inside window sills as these can catch the harsh sun’s rays.
- Sleep in good conditions
It may sound obvious, but not everyone adapts their sleep environment for the summer as they should. If you haven’t already, swap out the winter duvet for a few months and sleep in just cotton sheets or have a lighter tog duvet. Be prepared for cooler temperatures come 5am though, so have a rug or a throw at the bottom of the bed to pull on top if it gets too chilly. Aim to change your sheets and pillow cases a little more frequently than usual (at least they’ll dry quickly outside) as it will be pleasant to climb into fresh sheets after you’ve showered before bed.
Summer days are longer and brighter, so it may also be worth wearing an eye mask during these months too and a scent of lavender in the room can be calming in this hot, sticky weather – you may even think it’s the South of France!
- Keep hydrated
Keep an eye on your hydration levels throughout the day and drink plenty of water all day. Dehydration will elevate your body temperature and increase your resting heart rate. Also, be even more cautious around drinking caffeine and alcohol in this weather as both will lead to dehydration as well as poor temperature regulation.
- Keep the body cool
There are a few easy tricks to help keep the body cool in the heat. Firstly, select your nightwear carefully and choose cotton ahead of any other fabrics. You may also try to put your pillow case in the freezer for a short time as well as some wristbands or socks in the freezer too and wear to bed as cooling the extremities can help reduce core body temperature.
Another handy hint is to try making up some tart cherry juice ice lollies and have one in the evening as this will help lower your temperature. Tart cherries are particularly good for helping the onset of the sleep hormone melatonin.
- Take drastic action
If it’s just too hot and you’ve found yourself waking up and it’s still not even tomorrow yet, a panic can start to set in. You’ll be feeling hot and sticky and despite even having a fan in the room, you still can’t get a breath and your heart is racing. You’ll try and struggle sleep for the next 20 minutes, but it isn’t happening. It’s time to take some action. This might have to mean that two people can’t share this room and one of you needs to go to another part of the house to sleep. The same rule may have to apply if you keep a pet in your room too.
Finally, I hope you find these tips useful and help to improve your sleep in these unusually hot conditions. Please enjoy your summer and don’t let it be ruined by turbulent nights of poor sleep.