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How to get a good night’s sleep during the summer months

Rachel V Wall

Photography courtesy of Sleep Council

We asked a specialist how to sleep like a log when the temperature rises

Sleep is essential in leading a healthy life but it’s often easier said than done, especially when we're having a heatwave. Here’s how to pave the way for a solid night of shut-eye 

Keep a cool head

A crucial element of a good night’s sleep is temperature with the optimal bedroom set at around 16-18°C. In order to fall asleep our body temperature needs to lower slightly. This prompts the release of melatonin, the hormone responsible for making us sleepy. It's understandable that, when a bedroom is 10 degrees hotter than our body temperature, we struggle with journeying to the land of nod.

To kick off the cooldown, take a cold shower or bath before bedtime. Lisa Artis, deputy CEO of The Sleep Charity, says: “These help to lower core body temperature and they’ll leave you feeling refreshed.” Body parts worth special attention on summer nights are our head and feet. “Cooling these areas lowers the overall temperature of your skin and body,” she says. “This is why we often kick our legs out of the duvet when it’s warm. Try filling a hot-water bottle with iced water and placing it near your feet. Or cool socks in the fridge and put them on as you’re relaxing in bed. 

“You can also chill a pillowcase in the fridge before bedtime or try one of the new cooling pillows that are available to buy – both will help you keep a cool head.”

This is the bedroom, where the meltdown happens

While we relish scorching summer days, our bedrooms can retain that heat long into the evening. Lisa recommends opening windows and doors, thus creating a dreamy draught, and to optimise the cool, keep your curtains drawn and blinds down throughout the day. To ramp up the power of your portable fan and get that holiday air-con feeling in your bedroom, Lisa's top tip is to place a tray of iced water in front of the fan so that it blows cooler air around the room. 

And what of the Insta-craze for sleep-inducing cotton PJs? “What you wear in bed to feel comfortable is subjective,” she says. “Some people find sleeping naked cooler but light cotton nightwear can be better than wearing nothing as the natural fabric will absorb any perspiration.” 

Rethink your bedding too. The easiest option is to go sans-duvet but many might shudder at the thought. “We can feel vulnerable sleeping without something over us so swap your duvet for a low-tog one. Or consider sleeping just under a cotton sheet or your duvet cover, minus the duvet.”

Optomise your circadian rhythm

The circadian rhythm regulates our sleep-wake cycle and resets every 24 hours. It’s our internal clock, helping us exert energy during the day and recharge our batteries at night.   

“In ideal situations, the circadian rhythm will naturally rise in the early morning, promoting wakefulness and alertness, and reach a peak in the evening. After a waking period of around 15 hours the pressure to sleep becomes greater. In other words, we get tired. With the onset of darkness, the circadian rhythm drops to the lowest level and helps us to maintain sleep.”

Ever wondered why you can spring out of bed at 6am in July, while the same time in December might leave you crying into your pillow? It's down to those circadian rhythms again, “taking their cue from environmental factors such as light, dark and temperature, so it can be confusing in the summer when we spend more of our time in light”.  

An easy way to maximise summer sleeping is to establish a bedtime routine; waking and going to sleep at the same time every day including weekends. For an extra upbeat start, Lisa prescribes an early-start stroll. “Exposure to light on a morning walk will help reset circadian rhythms as well as giving us a much-needed energy boost,” she says.

Pre-bed snacks are a contentious issue amongst sleep experts: some claim that late-night digestion disrupts our sleep process, while others allege that twilight hunger pangs can be as troublesome. There are some categories to sidestep without question, advises Lisa. “Avoid alcohol and spicy food before bedtime. They can cause dehydration and overactive digestion, which makes you feel hot and restless in the middle of the night.” 

Down tech tools to switch-off

It’s not news that limiting screen time in the evening is crucial in the pursuit of good sleep but it’s even more pertinent during warmer months, when we might already be struggling.  

“The light emitted can play havoc with your internal body clock by suppressing the levels of melatonin and making your brain think it’s still daytime. So ensure you switch off at least an hour before bedtime.”

While the effects of blue light aren’t worsened during summer, another side-effect of holding a phone might halt your midnight scrolling. Lisa notes: “Tablets and mobile phones can get warm when you’re holding them, causing unnecessary heat.” Hence those hot little hands.

Hydrate all day for a restful night

It’s the classic conundrum: Hydrate all day and trek to the loo all night or forgo the extra H20 and wake up with a mouth as dry as a seven-year-old cracker. But dehydration can profoundly impact good quality shut-eye.

“Being dehydrated can affect sleep because your mouth and nasal passages become dry, which can lead to snoring,” says Lisa. “It’s important to remain hydrated but that doesn’t mean drinking a litre of water before bed – instead, focus on drinking throughout the day.” This is a win-win situation, if you consider the additional cognitive and performing enhancing qualities of regularly wetting your whistle.

#Sleeptember starts 1st September 2020

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