Alaska Sleep Education Center

Hot and Sleepless Summer Nights

Posted by Stefanie Leiter

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on Jul 17, 2019 6:09:56 AM

When you take so much effort to have the right sheets, comforters, and pajamas at night, the last thing you want is a sweaty mess as you lay your head down to sleep. Summer heat in Alaska is normally not an issue; however, temperatures have raised to record levels of heat this month.

Normally the blue on the map of the United States in July is flip flopped to the midwest and south: but not this year.

Record heat has also plagued Europe where air conditioning is not the norm has sent some travelers and residents in a tizzy over the heat. And we are not talking temps in the 80s but in the 110s in France just last month! So how can you prepare for high heat while trying to sleep a solid 8 hours?

Today we will review some tips and tricks to take with you on vacation or have on hand in the bedroom at home.

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Why does it matter to sleep in a comfortable temperature?

According to the Sleep Doctor (Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM), as your body prepares itself for sleep, you experience a drop in core body temperature. This starts to take effect in the late afternoon and drops again after dinner in the early evening.

“The body’s process of thermo-regulation—its ability to maintain and adjust its core temperature—operates on a 24-hour circadian cycle, as does the sleep-wake cycle.” Dropping body temperature helps you fall asleep and stay asleep at night, and rising temperature stimulates alertness in the morning.

“In preparation for sleep at night, the body pushes heat to the extremities. Blood vessels on the skin become larger in order to release heat. These physiological changes work to lower your core body temperature. With that drop in body temperature comes feelings of drowsiness, and eventually, sleep itself.

Body temperature stays low throughout the night before beginning to rise in the very early morning hours, helping prepare you to wake up and be active and alert.”

Another source from Tuck discusses the differences of shell and core temperatures which are important to understand in sleep temperature regulation.

  • “The temperature of the abdominal, thoracic, and cranial cavities, which contain the vital organs, is called the core temperature. Core temperature is regulated by the brain. 
  • The shell temperature includes the temperature of the skin, subcutaneous tissues, and muscles, and it is more affected by external temperature. The core is able to conserve or release heat through the shell.”

English Bulldog trying to get cool.

“When the core temperature is too high, blood vessels in the skin dilate and heat is lost through their walls. Sweat is also produced; it evaporates and lowers temperature. If a human is too cold, the blood vessels constrict, conserving heat.

Blood is preferentially shunted to the internal organs and away from the skin and peripheral structures like limbs.”

When you can balance the right temperature with your body and enter REM, your body does not produce sweat or shiver. If you are currently waking up in a cold or hot sweat or cannot fall asleep, here are some ideas to prepare for a good night’s sleep.

 

Cool your bedroom all day.

For those with a Nest or similar thermostat, program your house to start cooling down in the bedrooms to 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal sleep. Lowering the thermostat will help regulate your body's temperature while sleeping.

If you do not have an air conditioner at this time, there are a few options available. 

  • One, you can spring for an inexpensive ceiling fan. Ceiling fans provide air circulation the entire year. In the winter time, you can switch the rotation of the blades to distribute the heat and push it throughout the space of the room. But do not forget to switch the rotation for hotter temps: this way you can add more cool air to your room. 

 

  • Two, you can purchase a window unit for the bedroom. Keeping the bedroom door closed during the heat of the day with black out curtains helps as well.

 

  • Three, you can add an oscillating fan near the foot of the bed. Do not point it directly onto your face at night especially if you suffer from seasonal allergies. Again, blackout curtains can help with taking heat away from the room during the day.



Purchase the right ingredients for a cooler night sleep.

I get it: mattresses are not a cheap option to switch out because you are hot at night. Here is the good news: mattresses have trial periods. Take advantage of the hunt for a mattress by doing your homework and purchasing from a store or online that has an easy return policy. Some offer trial periods up to a year if you are not fully satisfied.

Avoid memory foam or mixed foam mattresses if you sweat or are hot at night. It also is best to avoid soft mattresses that cause your body to collapse in the bed. A firmer mattress helps you sleep on the surface. 

Depending on the size and model, some air mattresses are more of a hassle than user-friendly. However, an air mattress is helpful when moving or transitioning to a new place.

Without the need of a headboard or foot-board, the air mattress takes up less space and sets up quickly. A con to any inflatable device are leeks or wholes in the fabric. Take care when storing.

Make certain to purchase cooler pajamas in the summer like shorts or tank tops. You can even purchase a lighter weight blanket for the summer and store your winter bedding in a vacuum-sealed bag to save on space.

A popular pillow for hot, sweaty sleepers, the gel pillow is cool at all times and all seasons providing extra firm support to the head, neck, and shoulders. If contouring and bending is important in a pillow, gel is not the choice for you.

Though no pillowcase is the wrong choice, think about your sleep positions. Cotton is the most breathable and luxurious choices due to the thread count options. Flannel could be a good option in the cold winter months along with your flannel sheets.

For some, silk is a good pillowcase that also keeps your hair in place during any type of restless sleep, but silk can stain easily from oils and are less breathable than cotton's natural materials.

 

Add ambiance.

While some can endure a quiet sleeping space with ear plugs, others benefit from soft music or white noise to fill the space. Air purifiers can serve not only the issues with an eerily quiet sleeping space but also filters out impurities, dander, and dust.

Classical music or soft sounds of a babbling brook, tree frogs, or a thunderstorm through a sound machine may be the ticket to adding some sound to the room without disrupting your heart rate.

With the addition of some noise in the room, your mind can focus on sleep than the heat.

 

Start a bedtime routine specifically designed for the heat.

  • Reduce the temperature in your bedroom to mid-60s degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Wear breathable clothing and use less bedding.
  • Avoid mattresses which tend to conform to the body and trap heat, such as hybrid, memory foam, and latex. Instead, opt for water, innerspring, or airbeds.
  • Get a firmer mattress.
  • Exercise earlier. Waiting until bedtime will raise your body temperature reacting to your body trying to cool down for bedtime.
  • Take a warm bath 1 hour before bed. This will help calm your body and adding epsom salts or oils to the tub will put your body into relaxation.

Though a change in the routine of your bedroom temperature can help with a lack of sleep it could be another issue.

To discover if there are underlying causes to your lack of sleep, contact the Alaska Sleep Education Center for a free 10 minute phone consultation.

If you live in the state of Alaska, our board-certified sleep specialists can even make a Home Sleep Test work for you by calling 1-855-AKSLEEP.

 Download Self Referral Form

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Topics: losing sleep, summer

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