The science of sleeping in the heat

One of the most common challenges in a hot rental is getting a good night’s sleep. To help better understand this issue, and what you can do about it, we spoke with Professor Siobhan Banks and Dr Linda Grosser, two researchers who research sleep. 

Why does heat make sleeping hard?

When it’s getting near time to sleep, your body cools down. Blood vessels near the surface of your skin expand, helping to increase heat loss into the atmosphere. This reduction in the core body temperature (CBT) is linked with melatonin production and a sense of drowsiness. 

But what if you can’t cool down? If the environment itself is too hot, then your body can’t shed heat, so your CBT remains elevated and it’s harder to feel drowsy. The Goldilocks zone for bedroom temperature for most people is between 16 and 20ºC — anything above this, sleep can be affected. Scientists have observed a relationship between hotter nights and worse sleep.

What happens when you miss out on sleep?

The bad news is that it’s not great when you don’t get enough sleep. It’s harder to learn new things, it can compromise your immune system and your metabolism, and can cause inflammation. Too little sleep increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. It is linked to worse mood, and possibly depression and suicidality, as well as reduced cognitive performance. In short: a bad night of sleep turns into a bad day of awake. 

What can you do about it?

The good news is there are simple things you can do to help get to sleep in a hot room!

First: cooling your body. Air flow from a fan can make a huge difference, and something simple like putting a wet flannel on your foot can bring blissful cooling relief. Next, can you change your bed? Light cotton sheets make it easier to shed heat during the night. You could also keep an eye out for a more breathable mattress, or bamboo pillows. 

Hydration is also important. Staying hydrated through the day means you won’t wake up thirsty, and it means you can sweat during the night, which helps you cool off. However, avoid drinking lots of water just before bed, as a full bladder does not help one to stay asleep! Other things to avoid are anything that would increase your body temperature just before bed. As you approach bed-time, avoid strenuous exercise, alcohol, cigarettes, or a heavy/fatty/spicy meal. These can all make your body hotter, making it harder to sleep.

For more tips, check out our recipe on Sleeping in Summer.

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