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Too hot to sleep? Here’s how to get some rest on a summer night

Dr Carmel Harrington

Sleep better on hot nights with these cool-down tactics

A man without a shirt on naps on a bed
A man without a shirt on naps on a bed

Long days spent on the beach, evenings enjoying a backyard barbie with friends and plenty of fresh air… there’s a lot to love about summer days. But for many of us, summer nights mean a lot of time spent tossing and turning as temps stay high well into the night, leaving us desperately seeking sleep.

Understanding how temperature affects our sleep is the first step to finding solutions.

“The way the body works is that we are at our lowest temperature at about 4am and highest temperature at around about 7pm,” says sleep physician Dr Carmel Harrington, author of The Complete Guide To A Good Night’s Sleep. “Once we reach our peak body temperature and temperature starts to go down, that’s the time that we can sleep.”

Carmel says that an ideal ambient temperature (ie the room temperature) for sleep is around 18 degrees. When nightly ambient temperatures can sit at 25 to 30 degrees, it’s hard for our bodies to cool down enough to get decent shuteye. That’s why it’s important to create a cool sleeping environment during summer.

If your bedroom isn’t the coolest part of your house, consider sleeping in another room on sweltering nights. It also helps to have air flowing over your body to bring your body temperature down and have as much skin exposed to the moving air as possible.

“Obviously a fan will help and if you’re lucky enough to have air conditioning, that’s really good,” says Carmel. “A wet towel in front of the fan can help as well, so it’s cooler air that is blowing through.”

A tray of ice cubes positioned in front of the fan can also help, as can opening windows and doors to create a breeze.

A woman sits on the edge of the best with the windows open

Ways to prepare for a hot night

Before you hit the hay, there are plenty of steps you can take to put yourself in the best position to get a good night’s sleep despite a hot night.

1. Keep the sunlight out

During the day, draw the curtains to keep out sunlight and keep the windows closed if it’s hotter outside than in.

2. Avoid naps

Try to avoid napping during the day so you’re sleepy at bedtime. Make sure you drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

3. Exercise in the mornings

Keep daytime physical activity to a minimum on hot days, and if you do want to exercise, do it earlier in the day, not close to when you go to bed.

4. Watch what you eat

While hot, heavy and spicy foods are beautifully warming in winter, they can disrupt sleep on hot nights and are best avoided.

5. Have a lukewarm shower

No matter how tempting it might be to have a freezing cold shower before heading to bed, Carmel doesn’t advise it as this might alert the body rather than calming it down.

“But a lukewarm shower might work in summertime,” she says, explaining that this will enhance the body’s naturally falling temperature.

As heat is lost more quickly through your extremities, a 10-minute foot soak in cold water or wetting your hair before bed can help you keep your cool.

If your pets are in the habit of sleeping on your bed, it’s time to kick them off – sorry!

Ways to get a better sleep on a summer night

When it’s time for lights out, there are more measures you can put in place to help you get to sleep.

1. Cool the air

If it’s cooler outside than in, open up the door or window to help air circulate (or hang a wet sheet in front of the open window for extra air-cooling benefits).

2. Ban pets from the bed

If your pets are in the habit of sleeping on the bed, it’s time to kick them off (sorry!) so you’re not affected by their body heat.

3. Choose breathable fabrics

Replace your winter bedding with lightweight cotton options and sleep with only a sheet covering you, keeping a light blanket nearby to pull over you in case the temperature drops in the night. If you’re a PJ wearer, choose lightweight, loose-fitting, breathable cotton or linen pieces.

4. Use water and ice

Applying cloths or wristbands soaked in cold water to your skin can help cool you down and, on particularly sweltering evenings, even ice packs held on the armpits and groin for short periods of time can help.

5. Expose your feet

If you wake up too hot during the night, Carmel suggests putting your feet out of the bed covers: “That will cool the body,” she says.

6. Give yourself a spritz

Flipping the pillow over to the ‘cold side’ helps and you may even like to keep a spray bottle of water by the bed to give your face and body a refreshing spritz if you wake up in the night.

For more tips and tricks on improving the quality (and quantity) of your sleep, check out our dedicated Sleep page on The Check Up.

Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.

Dr Carmel Harrington

Dr Carmel Harrington is a sleep scientist who, over the past 25 years, has extensively researched the processes and functions of sleep. Good sleep is a fundamental need that underpins physical and mental health, without it we suffer significant consequences. She believes it is time to wake up to the wonders of sleep.