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How to Sleep Better Despite the Heat

by Jennifer Barzey, LCSW

Hot August nights are here!

We are well into summer and with that comes longer days and warmer nights. Have you noticed changes in your sleep or energy levels? Maybe reaching for an extra cup of coffee to get going in the morning or afternoon? Throughout summer, many people increase their vacations, backyard parties and outdoor activities. While much of this is positive bringing more physical activity and time with family and friends, it is important to remember that changes to our daily routine also impact our biological rhythms.

Sleep truly is an essential building block at the foundation of physical and mental wellbeing. We recognize this when establishing a regular bedtime routine for children, but seem to let things slide when we become adults. Perhaps as adults we don’t have a meltdown or tantrums after a poor night’s sleep (or maybe we do) but the effects of poor sleep show up in other ways. Irritability, restlessness, poor motivation, difficulty concentrating, depression and mood disorders all have been linked to poor sleep.

Sleep is one of the crucial bodily processes that often gets disrupted during summer and since it is essential to mental and physical heath, it cannot be neglected without consequences. There are several reasons why sleep may become more difficult in the summer. Two of the most impactful reasons are hotter temperatures and longer daylight. You have likely heard of circadian rhythm, the body’s 24-hour clock helping to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. When circadian rhythm is working well and the time for sleep approaches, the body begins a process to prepare itself for rest. As night approaches, daylight fades and the cooler temperatures of evening signal the pineal gland in your brain to increase release of melatonin, a hormone that aids in good quality sleep. While sleeping, your body also goes through several phases which can also be impacted by temperature. For example, a hot room can interfere with adequate time spent in REM.

As temperatures heat up globally and there is insufficient cool down at night, we may need to consider taking extra precautions to help our body’s circadian rhythm to stay balanced.

Here are a few suggestions that may promote better sleep this summer:

Stick to a Routine. This is important any time of year and even more so when sleep is being impacted environmentally. With longer days it’s easy to get in the habit of staying up later. Maybe you have kids home from school or have taken vacations that got you off track. Keeping to a regular bedtime and waketime is one of the best ways to reduce fatigue and improve mental clarity.

Cool it Down. For most adults, the ideal room temperature for sleep is somewhere between 60-68 degrees. If you think like me, that sounds expensive! While not everyone can afford to keep their a/c going all night, there are other ways to promote a cool environment and body temperature. Exercise increases body temperature so try to stop your work-outs at least 2 hours before sleep. Consider taking a cool shower before bed. Heat rises, so if your bedroom is upstairs, you may consider moving downstairs for summer. Sleeping next to a loved one can be wonderful but combined body temperature heats things up. It’s okay to sleep apart for a while if needed. Lastly, choose breathable and natural fabrics like cotton or silk for sleepwear.

Keep it Dark. Light is even more important to circadian rhythm than temperature. It is the amount of light passing through the retina in your eyes that signals the pineal gland to increase or decrease melatonin production. In our modern world we are often exposed to artificial lights right up until the moment we go to bed. To increase melatonin production, try to avoid blue light for at least an hour before bed. This includes the light coming from computer screens, televisions and phones. Some of these devices have evening settings or you can purchase blue-light blocking glasses to help filter out the sleep disrupting rays. Even better, consider listening to a podcast, relaxing music or reading before bed. If you have a bright alarm clock on your nightstand turn it away from your face.

Sip & Dine to Unwind. Like so many other bodily processes, hormones and neurotransmitters are key to a healthy circadian rhythm. Not only does what you put into your body significantly impact the creation of hormones and neurotransmitters, nutrient metabolism can affect which ones are being released at any given moment. Avoid things that are stimulating, like sugar and caffeine, later in the day. If you drink alcohol, you will want to stop at least 4 hours before bed. While alcohol may make you feel tired, it is well known to disrupt the quality of your sleep. A better choice would be to have a calming drink like herbal tea or sparkling water. I like to end my day with a green drink or sip water with some magnesium powder added. Although oats are often eaten for breakfast, they may serve us better at the end of the day. Oats are known to have anxiolytic properties which may help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. Another good choice for evening snacks is figs which are high in tryptophan, an essential amino acid needed for production of serotonin and melatonin.

Here's to a good night’s rest!

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