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Sleeping well in hot weather

Sleeping well in hot weather

While there's much to be said for having a decent summer at last, one of the first casualties of hot weather is a decent night's sleep. Here are some top tips to help you sleep soundly as temperatures soar.

We're all aware of the importance of a good night's sleep. Sleep helps our bodies and our minds to recharge and repair themselves, and good sleep has been identified as a vital component of optimal mental and physical health. But as the temperatures soar, most of us find it increasingly difficult to get the deep, uninterrupted sleep that we crave. Why is that and what can we do about it?

Why is it so hard to sleep when it's hot?

There are good reasons why it's hard to sleep in hot weather, so don't beat yourself up if you're a summer insomniac (beating yourself up is likely to make it even harder to fall asleep anyway)! Dropping off to sleep involves a whole number of complex mechanisms operating across your body. One of these is body temperature. A mild drop in temperature induces sleep, a bit like turning down the thermostat to conserve energy overnight. Without that drop in temperature, it's very hard to fall asleep in the first place.

Then, once you are asleep, you eventually enter the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep. This is when dreaming happens and when experts believe a lot of the restorative work of sleep takes place. It's quite an odd state to be in: you lose all muscle tone (which stops you acting out your dreams) and internal temperature regulation. Your body temperature gradually becomes whatever the temperature is outside. And when that gets too hot for comfort, you wake up.

So how hot is too hot for falling asleep? For initial dropping off, anything above 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit) is pretty uncomfortable, and most people find it easier to get to sleep if the temperature is below 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit). Humidity compounds the problem, as sweat doesn't evaporate from your skin so easily to cool it down.

So sleeping well in hot weather is all about cooling down your surroundings and yourself as best you can. Here's how.

Cooling down your bedroom

For most of us in this country, air conditioning is impractical or unnecessarily expensive. There are also some dubious potential side effects of air conditioning, from increasing your chances of catching summer colds to mild respiratory problems if the air becomes excessively dry, and of course it also costs money and energy to run. Fortunately, there are plenty of other ways to keep your home, and particularly your bedroom, cool.

  • Don't be tempted to keep your windows open all day. Instead, let in some air over night or first thing in the morning when it's still cool, opening all windows and doors to maximise air circulation. Then close windows and draw curtains during daylight hours.
  • Invest in an electric fan to boost air circulation in your bedroom. Point it at your body rather than you head. For cooler air, place a shallow container of ice in front of the fan, so that it cools the air blowing across it.
  • Soak a tea towel in cold water. Even put it in the freezer for a bit if you like. Then hang it in front of your open bedroom window overnight to cool down the air that is coming in from outside.
  • If your bedroom is on an upper floor, consider moving downstairs while the nights are really hot. Hot air rises and the ground floor (or cellar, if you're lucky enough to have one) will be much cooler than the first or second floor.

Cooling down your bed

If you've done all you can to cool down your bedroom but it's not helping, consider focusing your efforts on your bed:

  • Put your pillow in the fridge or freezer during the day, or place a tea towel that has been dampened and kept in the fridge or freezer over it when you go to sleep.
  • Use a spray bottle of water to slightly dampen your top sheet and cool it down. You can achieve the same effect by putting your top sheet through the rinse and spin cycle of your washing machine.
  • Make the opposite of a hot water bottle by freezing a plastic bottle of water during the day. Wrap it in a tea towel so you don't get soaked as the ice melts.
  • If you're up to trying more exotic bed paraphernalia, consider a straw or bamboo mat to sleep on, or buckwheat pillows or futons. These materials don't retain body heat so they feel cool all night long.

Cooling down your body

The ultimate aim of all of these efforts to cool down your home and bedroom is to cool down your body. Here are some more things you can specifically to keep your body cool:

  • Take a tepid shower or bath an hour before bed. Not cold, as that will make your pores close up so you actually feel warmer in the long run.
  • Wear cotton pants and a loose cotton top to sleep. Like the tepid rather than cold shower or bath, this may seem a bit counterintuitive at first, but it's actually cooler than sleeping naked, as natural fibres wick away moisture from your skin.
  • Keep a cool damp towel around your neck. Lots of blood circulates around here, so this is a great way of cooling down quickly.
  • If you're desperate, consider wearing dampened socks that have placed in the fridge for an hour or two. Cooling down your feet can be a great way of lowering overall body temperature.
  • Keep an emergency cooling-down kit by your bedside table for those times that you wake up feeling too hot: A cool flannel, glass of iced water and a spray bottle are all useful.

Sleep tight...