Those long summer days and forecasted heatwaves are almost like religious events in the UK. They’re celebrated and greatly anticipated every single year.
But as much as we love soaking up the sun outside, there’s one problem with heatwaves. And that’s the hot nights where everything feels too stuff, sticky and hot to sleep.
If you aren’t one of the few lucky people to have AC (and we get it, it’s not needed 90% of the year), this guide is for you. We’ll detail our top tips for how to sleep during a heatwave, so you can top off those long summer days with a soundless sleep at night.
What are you waiting for? Let’s dive into these cool, refreshing tips.
Why is it hard to sleep when it’s hot?
Before we get straight to the tips, let’s talk a little about the science of why it’s so hard to sleep when it’s hot. Fundamentally, there are two levels to this answer.
The first reason is being too hot is uncomfortable to us. We are creatures of comfort, and we need that to relax and switch off. It’s why we sleep in nice beds, curled up with soft duvets and decorate our bedrooms to our liking.
If we’re not comfortable, we struggle to turn off. It dominates our thoughts, which is why we often struggle to fall asleep if we’re in pain, ill, or in a strange environment. Being too hot is just the same. Instead of winding down into sleep, we can’t help but think of how hot it is, how sticky we are, how everything feels stuffy, etc.
The second reason is that our body has a pretty complex relationship between our temperature and sleep.
Our circadian rhythm or ‘biological clock’ is what regulates our sleep, telling us when it’s time to get tired and when it’s time to wake up. But as well as regulating sleep, it also has a big impact on functions such as temperature, our metabolism and certain hormones.
Our core body temperature changes throughout the day. Generally, it’s the lowest while we’re asleep and will gradually rise over the course of the day. Then about 2 hours before you go to bed, it will peak – then drop.
Once your temperature starts to drop, your body will take that as a signal to start preparing for bed.
On a very simple level, if your body recognises that it’s dark outside and it’s cold, it will start the process to fall asleep. But if it’s dark and hot, your circadian rhythm will get knocked out of sync, disrupting your normal sleeping patterns.
Want to find out more about how sleep works? Discover the answers in our guide to what is sleep here.
Our top tips for how to sleep during a heatwave
Without further ado, let’s go into the top tips to follow to help you sleep during a heatwave.
1. Avoid napping during the day
I’ll admit, this is a tough one for me when the temperature rises. There’s just something really relaxing about laying in the sun, soaking up the heat and letting your eyes close for a small snooze.
But if you’re struggling to sleep at night, this isn’t a great idea as it interferes with your sleep drive, telling your body that you’re not as tired as you might be. It’s like being really hungry. And then, before a big meal, you decide to have a snack that ruins your appetite. A snack is not a substitute for a meal.
If you really must catch those Z’s, our guide to improving sleep details that you limit the risk of your naps by keeping them between 10-20 minutes long, and making sure that you don’t nap later in the day than 3 pm.
2. Don’t mess with your routines
Heatwaves are great for getting outside, socialising with family and friends and maybe treating yourself to BBQ’s, ice cream and activities that you wouldn’t normally consider. And that’s all well and good – it’s important to have fun.
But in a summer heatwave, the days are longer and the heat can make a normal 8 pm feel like 4 in the afternoon. So instead of winding down for the day at your normal bedtime, you’re out and about.
Those extra long days can interfere with your sleep routine, making it hard for your body to wind down at night. So if you’re struggling, try to not stray from your usual routine.
3. Keep your curtains closed in the day
If your bedroom is too hot, it might be a good idea to keep your windows and curtains closed in there during the day. This will help stop the sunlight, and the worst of the heat from getting into your room.
When it gets to evening, open the windows in your house back up to try and get a breeze through the house, without letting most of the hot air in.
The optimum sleeping temperature for adults is around 18.5°C. By doing this, you can get your room closer to that magic number to help you fall asleep.
If you have children, you’ll also want to do the same for their rooms. The optimum sleeping temperature for babies is between 16-20°C. But as they can’t regulate their temperature, you’ll want to keep a close eye on them during a heatwave.
4. Use thin sheets and cooling mattress protectors
If you’re too hot, the last thing you need is to crawl underneath a thick, winter duvet.
Although it might be tempting to sleep without a sheet, you may end up waking up later in the night as your core temperature drops. For optimum sleep, it’s best to have something on you – but nothing too thick. Thin, cotton sheets are great for this purpose.
If your mattress feels too hot as well, you might want to invest in a cooling mattress protector. This will help prevent your body heat from being trapped inside the mattress, helping to disperse the heat and keep you cool all night long.
Luckily for you, our team have tried and tested the best cooling mattress protectors in the UK. You might want to get started with:
5. Use cold water bottles
Have a hot water bottle? Try filling it with ice-cold water instead and hugging that close at night. The cold touch will help cool you down in no time for a soundless sleep.
If you’re feeling brave, try using it alongside socks that have been chilled in the fridge. It may seem insane, but cooling your feet can lower your overall temperature.
6. Keep hydrated and avoid alcohol
A heatwave brings the risk of dehydration. So, whatever you’re doing, you need to ensure that you’re drinking plenty of water throughout the day.
Although it’s tempting to crack open a cold beer on a hot day, you might want to think about avoiding alcohol if you’re struggling to sleep. Generally, alcohol isn’t good for sleep as it blocks your body from producing the sleep hormone melatonin, making it harder for you to get to sleep.
Alcohol is also very dehydrating, so if you are drinking, you need to make sure you’re having plenty of water in between.
7. Go for a soak before bed
Remember how sleepy you can feel after having a bath? There’s a reason for that.
As we mentioned before, your core body temperature plays a role in your circadian rhythm and how you fall asleep. Generally, your temperature will rise through the day, hitting a peak around 2 hours before you sleep and sharply dropping.
Having a bath can trigger this change in temperature. Although it might seem counterintuitive to get into a warm bath on a summers day, it can be deeply relaxing and do more to drop your temperature afterwards than a cold shower will do. Think of it as having an end of day hot-tub soak if it makes you feel more comfortable.
As you’re in the bath, your core temperature will reach a peak and let go of heat through your skin, hands and feet. So when you get out of the bath, your body is actively releasing all of your heat and cooling your body down.
As your body temperature drops, you also unlock that all-important stage of your circadian rhythm, so you start to feel more tired as your body prepares to send you to sleep.
8. Rethink pyjamas
A heatwave is not the time for long-sleeved pyjamas tops and trousers. You’ll want to break out the very thin and breathable clothing you have to sleep at night.
And, if you’re brave enough, you might want to think about ditching them entirely. Even if you’re not in a heatwave, sleeping naked can hold a ton of benefits, such as:
- Improving your circulation, leading to better muscle health and recovery.
- Building confidence and improving your self-image.
- Improve your relationship and fertility.
- Help you look younger.
Now, that’s some powerful reasons to go commando.
9. Sleep alone
No matter how much you love your other half, sharing body heat during a heatwave is a killer. Having two people in the same bed will increase the temperature of the room, making it hotter, stickier and sweater. And no, not in the good way either, so get your minds out of the gutter.
If you have the luxury of a spare bed or comfy sofa, you might want to ditch your other half for the night and cool off by yourself.
10. Get out of bed if you can’t sleep
If you can’t sleep, the very worst thing you can do is stay in bed and lay awake thinking for hours. It’s not productive and it just makes it harder for yourself to fall asleep later on.
If it’s been more than 20 minutes and you’re still awake, get up and leave your bedroom.
But instead of slumping from the bed straight in front of the TV, you’ll want to complete low-level activities that calm your mind down and help prepare you for sleep better. This can include:
- Reading a book;
- Making and having a drink;
- Low-effort chores, such as folding laundry.
If you’re really hot, you could always make yourself a new icepack and spend some time trying to cool your temperature down.
Whatever you do, make sure that you keep the lights low and don’t overstimulate yourself. You want to wind yourself down, not get yourself fired up. If you can, avoid gadgets such as your mobile or laptop, which will make it harder for you to fall asleep afterwards.
When you feel tired enough to sleep again, head back into the bedroom and try again. But don’t put that much pressure on yourself. If you’re still awake, get back up again and try later on. It will happen eventually.
Need more sleep tips or advice?
The Sleep4Beginners team have always got your back. Whether you need tips for a good nights sleep, explanations and guidance on common sleep disorders or advice and reviews of the best mattress and sleeping accessories, we’ve got you covered.
Make sure to check out the Sleep4Beginners website for all your sleep needs.