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Summertime Insomnia Is Real. Here's How to Beat It.

Address these four factors to improve sleep quality during warmer weather.

Key points

  • More light during the summer months means more suppression of melatonin, a hormone that helps us feel sleepy.
  • Increased alcohol intake during summer can also interfere with our sleep quality.
  • We can't sleep well if our core temperature can't cool down.
  • When allergies rise, so do sleep troubles.

If you find yourself tossing and turning a bit more once the weather gets warmer or not feeling as rested as you did during winter months, you’re not alone. Many people simply don’t get as good of a night’s sleep once the temperature ticks up. Here’s a look at four factors that contribute to summertime insomnia, plus some tips on how to counteract it.

1. Higher temperatures. Being able to fall and stay asleep depends in part on our body’s ability to regulate its core temperature. We naturally experience a dip in body temperature as we get sleepier (this helps promote sleep), as well as subsequent dips in body temperature during non-rapid eye movement (REM) sleep stages. That changes a bit as brain temperature rises during REM phases due to increased brain blood flow, but on average, while we’re not awake, our core temperature is about 1-2 degrees colder. If your room’s too hot due to the heat of the summer months, this can interfere with your body’s thermoregulation and mess with a good night’s rest. A higher core temperature overnight reduces slow-wave sleep and is linked to waking up after conking out. Counteract the effects of hotter rooms by cranking the airconditioner if you can (many sleep experts suggest keeping your bedroom between 65-68 degrees Fahrenheit), flipping a fan on to cool you down, or (and this may seem counterintuitive) taking a warm bath before bed. This latter move helps increase vasodilation, which redirects heat from your core to your extremities—the main way the body cools itself. You may also consider investing in a cooling (or "high heat capacity" mattress), which has been shown to facilitate overnight core body temperature regulation and improve restorative slow-wave sleep as a result.

2. More light. Many sleep researchers blame the rise in summer insomnia upon the increased daylight warmer months have to offer. Daylight suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps make us feel sleepy once the sun sets. It’s pumped out by the pineal gland in response to darkness. Hence why a brighter sky for more hours in the day and evening relative to winter curbs its output—as does staring at a brightly lit device well into the evening. Consider investing in blackout curtains for your bedroom to block out the sleep-disrupting light of summer or sleeping with an eye mask. (It has been shown to improve sleep and, as a result, alertness and learning the next day.)

3. More booze. Many people tend to drink more during the spring and summer months. Some surveys suggest May is on par with December as one of the most popular times to consume. Research suggests this is a worldwide phenomenon, which means it’s a universal impediment to a good night’s rest for folks at home and abroad. Alcohol suppresses REM sleep, the stage of Zs understood to play a role in learning and memory consolidation as well as emotional processing. (The critical ability humans have to make sense of emotionally intense experiences so they can learn, heal, and grow from them rather than remain overwhelmed, flooded, or haunted by them.) There’s no need to go completely dry for the summer, but if you’re finding yourself more exhausted than not, you may want to consider cutting back on alcohol to ensure a better night’s rest.

4. Air quality changes. As trees and flowers blossom during warmer months, so do allergies, which can prevent us from falling and staying asleep as we’re startled from slumber by coughing, sneezing, wheezing, or itching. Allergies and insomnia can create an unfortunate alliance during summertime, but there are ways to avoid their additive effect. Air purifiers with HEPA filters have been shown to reduce the need for allergy medications among patients diagnosed with allergic rhinitis—as have high-efficiency whole-house filtration systems. Also regularly vacuuming and dusting your bedroom and talking with your doctor about allergy medications or shots that can reduce your symptoms. Be sure to check the label on any allergy remedies you opt for, however, as many have pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine, which can preclude a good night’s sleep.

Summertime insomnia may be a common phenomenon but it doesn’t have to put a damper on your seasonal well-being. Consider some small shifts in alcohol intake, exposure to light, temperature control, and air quality, and you may find yourself sliding into sleep with a bit more ease, no matter how hot and stuffy it is outside.

More from Katherine Cullen MFA, LCSW
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