A Summer Sleep Survival Guide
From clear blue skies to gentle warm breezes, the summer months are unquestionably some of the best. But the anticipation of snow-free commutes and the shedding of bulky jackets are soon met with the reality of a lackadaisical summer schedule and hot humid weather that can wreak havoc on a person’s sleep.
This Summer Sleep Survival Guide will maneuver you through the most common obstacles that disrupt summer slumber.
Light and the Effect on Circadian Rhythm
Circadian rhythms are important in determining human sleep patterns. The body's master clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), controls the production of melatonin, a hormone that makes us sleepy. Since it is located just above the optic nerves, which relay information from the eyes to the brain, the SCN receives information about incoming light. When there is less light - like at night - the SCN tells the brain to release melatonin so drowsiness occurs. So, the extra hours of sunlight we enjoy in the summer months can unfortunately make it difficult to initiate and maintain sleep.
Survival Tip - The solution is simple! Make the bedroom as dark as possible. Room darkening curtains and blackout shades make it possible to bring the dark in, even on the brightest of days. Not only that, it helps cool the room during hot humid days, which leads to the next summer sleep hindrance….
Ambient Temperature Changes
The “dog days of summer” originated when the ancient Greeks noticed that summer’s most intense heat occurred during the approximate 40-day period when Sirius (the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major, or Greater Dog), rose and set with the sun. It’s now understood to be the hottest, most uncomfortable part of summer. These days most people have access to air-conditioning to allow for more comfortable sleeping conditions. The optimal temperature for sleep is between 68 and 72 degrees, although in warmer climates cooling to approximately 75 degrees is more realistic and energy efficient. But what do you do if you find yourself without this luxury? How do you achieve good sleep in hot conditions?
Survival Tips -
- Taking a lukewarm shower before bed allows for more comfortable sleep. Cold showers will cause the body to heat up to compensate.
- Sleep in cotton clothing or wear as little as possible when going to bed. Though you may be tempted to strip down and go naked to stay cool, sleeping naked can make you feel hotter as it does not allow moisture to evaporate between your body and the sleeping surface.
- Sleep like the ancients Egyptians. This method involves dampening a sheet in cool water and using it as a blanket. An effortless way to do this is to soak the sheet in water, then put it in the washing machine on spin cycle to stop any dripping. You might want to lay the damp sheet on top of a dry towel to avoid soaking the mattress.
- Make a retro air conditioner by positioning a shallow pan or bowl (a roasting pan works nicely) full of ice in front of a large fan. The breeze will pick up cold water from the ice’s surface as it melts, creating a cooling mist.
On cooler evenings, opening the windows allows for circulation and natural air-conditioning, but with this comes the next stumbling block for snoozing….
The FDA estimates that there are approximately 36 million people in the United States who suffer from seasonal allergies. While it’s true the spring and fall seasons tend to get a lot of the allergy attention, summertime comes with its own offenders. Pollen, mold, grasses, and ragweed are the most common allergens during the summer months. Symptoms of summer allergies include: runny nose, watery/itchy eyes, sneezing/sniffling, cough, and dark circles under the eyes.
So how do seasonal allergies affect our sleep?
According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 48% of patients with allergic rhinitis reported the condition interfered with quality sleep. Rhinitis can cause nasal passages to swell, ans narrowing of the upper airway. This has been shown to aggravate symptoms of snoring and sleep apnea. This can even interfere with the effectiveness and tolerance of CPAP therapy.
Survival Tips -
- Monitor local allergy reports and stay indoors when levels are high. Phone apps can be a useful tool for alerts.
- Keep windows closed and air-conditioning on to prevent the exposure to allergens and high humidity levels. Change filters as recommended.
- Use a dehumidifier to help prevent the buildup of mold spores.
- Taking a hot shower right before bedtime can clear sinuses and remove allergens from the body’s surface.
- Talk with your physician about allergy medication to control daily symptoms.
Keep in mind that allergy seasons differ from region to region, so plan ahead as you leave home for the next hurdle to good summer shuteye…
For vacationers heading to different time zones and unfamiliar beds in hotels or relatives’ homes, a good night’s sleep may seem near impossible. Jet lag can plague the most seasoned traveler, and “first night effect” can start a vacation off on the wrong foot. Add a child or two in the mix, and it’s a perfect storm of cranky kids and sleep deprived parents. While travel and schedule changes will most likely result in some sleep time disruption, there are strategies that can minimize the effects and add to the daily enjoyment of the trip.
- Get a good night’s sleep the night before vacation. This leaves you better equipped to cope with jet lag or “first night effect”.
- Try to develop a schedule that allows seven or eight hours of sleep a night. If your child still naps daily, build that nap into the schedule if possible.
- Set your watch to your future destination to be psychologically aligned with the new time zone.
- Whether flying or driving, try to allow for periods of movement and stretching. This will help with circulation and alertness.
- Be mindful of alcohol and caffeine intake. A cocktail late at night may make you sleepy, but it won’t help you stay asleep. Drinking alcohol near bedtime can cause disrupted sleep and leave you feeling dehydrated. Coffee, soda and other caffeinated beverages should also be avoided a few hours before bedtime.
- Apply sunscreen before venturing outside and reapply often, especially when swimming. A severe sunburn can make even the best accommodations seem uncomfortable and interrupt shuteye.
- Don’t forget to pack your CPAP! Being well rested will make everyone’s trip more enjoyable.
Summertime obstacles that interfere with slumber can be overcome with just a few simple strategies. So, enjoy the family vacation, reading in the hammock, and drinking cold lemonade. Autumn is close behind!