Sleeping When it is Blistering Hot

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Many parts of the world are experiencing heat waves, and for the first time many people are having trouble sleeping because it is just too hot.

Research has shown that there seems to be an ideal temperature for sleep and when this temperature is very high, it takes longer to fall asleep, and once sleep is achieved, it is broken up or fragmented and there is less dreaming.

In many parts of the world where it is always hot in the summer, people will often have air conditioning in their dwellings. However, with extreme heat waves, electrical power often goes down because of increased demand.

Here are some helpful tips.


What you can do about where you sleep

1. Do whatever you can to prevent excessive heat build-up in your sleep environment. During the daytime use blinds to keep out sunlight and keep the windows closed if the temperature outside is much hotter than inside. At night time, if the temperature is less outside than inside, open your windows.

2. Remember that heat rises. So if you are living in a multiple story dwelling the lower you are the cooler it will be.

3. If there is absolutely nothing you can do to cool off your dwelling, consider asking friends or relations who have a cooler dwelling or who live in a cooler place, whether you can stay with them for a few nights. They will understand.

4. If worse comes to worst, in some parts of the world people end up sleeping outdoors because it is simply not possible to cool off their dwellings at night. If you sleep outdoors, consider the need to protect yourself against mosquitoes and other insects.

5. Some communities may have cooling centers in schools or public places that are air-conditioned.

6. This is important! Some people will sleep in a motor vehicle and have the air conditioning running. This can be very dangerous if the vehicle is not moving, because there may be a build-up of carbon monoxide.

What you can do before going to bed

1. Water is a great cooling agent. Showers and baths before bed may help. Strangely enough, some people do better taking hot showers and hot baths when the room temperature is very high. The problem of course with hot showers is that they increase the humidity, which could make things worse.

2. Some people have found that being sprayed by a plant mister or gadget that creates a fine mist may help.


What you can do to improve your sleep environment

1. Light bedclothes and light pajamas or no pajamas are certainly an important option. There are pajamas made from materials that wick away sweat which might be very helpful. Such nightclothes are available and helpful, for example, in women who are having hot flashes during sleep, who sweat a great deal. Such materials include CoolMax ®.

2. Some people find that a fan in the room may help.

If you wake up and you are sweaty and your sheets and pillow cases are wet consider taking a brief shower and change the bed clothes.


What you can do to prepare for future heat waves

1. Since it is getting hotter and hotter, it might be time to invest in some air conditioning units. In many places, room air conditioners are reasonably priced. They are usually hard to find during a heat wave.

2. If you are going to purchase one, make sure that you obtain the right size. For a small room you don’t need a huge air conditioner. Ask the vendor how to calculate what size air conditioner you need. Remember that if you use a room air conditioner it is best to seal the room from the remainder of the house. Offer to share your air conditioned place with others.

Protect your health

Remember that when you sweat a great deal, you lose both water and electrolytes. This can be dangerous. Make sure that you replenish both and do not become dehydrated. Avoid excessive and unprotected sun exposure. Sunburn will add to your misery in trying to sleep when it is hot.

Other experts recommend:


Joyce Walsleben, PhD, Sleep Medicine Associates of New York City

* Sleep often, as long as possible in your usual night schedule and then during the early afternoon if you can get the time

* Drink lots of cool fluids and eat smaller, more frequent meals

* Freeze a damp washcloth -- this can be used as a nice, cool compress

* Try showering and leaving your hair wet or put a cold pack on your head before bedtime

* If you are using fans in your home, be sure there is a path for air to flow by keeping the bedroom door open

* Play relaxing music -- it can be soothing even on a hot night

* Postpone outdoor activities if they are too active

NSF Alert Readers Recommend:

* Place a pan of ice cubes in front of a fan to cool down the air being blown around the room

* If you don't have a washcloth or ice pack, try using something from your freezer like frozen veggies to cool down your neck, head and shoulders

Get more information

National Institute of Aging: Hyperthermia

National Institute of Aging: Hyperthermia [Spanish]

— Meir Kryger, MD, Author of "A Woman's Guide to Sleep Disorders" and "A Good Night's Sleep"