Shelby Harris

Shelby Harris Psy.D.

The Land of Nod

Sleepless in the Summer

How to improve your sleep when the mercury rises

Posted May 26, 2015

Memorial Day has passed and the unofficial start of summer is upon us. The temperature outside has been rising with each passing week. Although the warmer months signal longer days spent outside, going to the beach and barbecues, it can also bring about tossing and turning at night due to changes in sleep schedules and uncomfortable heat. Being prepared to deal with the effects of heat on sleep can do wonders for your energy and mood come the dog days of summer. 

Circadian rhythms are innate, biological clocks that govern many functions in our body, including the release of certain hormones and the timing of when to wake up and when to get sleepy. When good sleepers go to bed, their circadian rhythm kicks in and alerts the core body temperature to very slightly drop. As the night continues, the temperature continues to drop slightly until approximately two hours before routine morning awakening. Simply put, your brain has an internal thermostat that’s lowering the temperature at night to make you sleepy and then rising it slowly just before waking in the morning.

Sleeping in a cooler room is ideal since it helps to enhance that internal thermostat that wants to lower the core body temperature. That being said, there can be such a thing as a room that’s too cold and sleeping at either extreme (hot or cold) has been shown to disrupt sleep quantity and quality. It is hard to give a “just right” temperature for everyone since we all have slightly different thermostats. I rarely see a couple in my practice that both like the temperature as is—usually, one feels it is too cold and the other thinks it is too hot. I usually advise patients to find what is most comfortable to them, usually within the 60-72 degree range. If you and your partner have significantly different internal thermostats, I often suggest that bed partners keep two different quilts or bedspreads on the bed. One person can use the heavier one and the other can use a lighter one.

In the sweltering summer months, keeping your room below 72 degrees might require some creativity. If you are lucky enough to have air conditioning, by all means use it. If no air conditioning, open the windows to allow for a cross breeze and use a fan to circulate the room air. During the day, keep your windows closed with light-blocking (not simply light filtering!) shades to keep the hot air and sunlight from coming in and warming things up.

If you live in a multi-level house, remember that heat rises. Consider sleeping downstairs or in the basement if it is too hot upstairs. It may sound ridiculous, but you might even consider keeping your sheets and pillowcase in the freezer just before bed. Special pillows are available to purchase that are designed to keep cold throughout the night. In the worst-case scenario, consider sleeping for a day or two at someone else’s house if their place is cooler at night.

Keeping your bedroom cool, but not too cold, can be the key to a good night’s sleep during the summer months. With good sleep comes more energy to enjoy all those outdoor summer activities!