Do you find yourself struggling to get to sleep more than usual in the summertime? Well, according to sleep experts, there are actually a few reasons why it’s harder to catch those z’s during this season. Summer insomnia is something that should be addressed.
We spoke to Dr. Carleara Weiss, PhD, Scientific Adviser at Aeroflow Sleep, who explains that the summer confuses our body’s “biological clock” — also known as the circadian clock, or circadian rhythm. Below, she shares why our sleep changes when the temps rise, and what we can do to get more of it.
What is summer insomnia?
According to Dr. Weiss, summer insomnia isn’t the same as regular insomnia. If you notice you can’t sleep more in the summer, here’s why: “Sleep is affected by the extended daylight duration during summer and its implications to the natural production of melatonin,” says Dr. Weiss. “Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally by our body at the right time to support sleep, thanks to a master biological clock in our brain. This biological clock uses information from the body and the environment to identify the right timing for hormones, metabolism, and sleep. It understands light as a signal to stay awake and ‘blocks’ melatonin.”
Dr. Weiss says that the earlier sunrise during the summer signals to our brain that it’s time to wake up, and later sunsets delay the release of melatonin. The result? Shorter sleep duration, and more trouble falling asleep.
Warmer temperatures might also contribute to poor sleep quality in the summer. “In normal conditions, the body temperature lowers before bedtime, creating a sleep signal to the brain,” says Dr. Weiss. “However, during the summer, the high temperatures affect the natural thermoregulation in our bodies, keeping the temperature high for longer and making it difficult to fall asleep. An ideal room temperature is between 60 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit.”
There’s one more thing Dr. Weiss says is particularly important to highlight: “An additional factor that is often overlooked is changes in our schedule,” she notes. “During summer, we tend to spend more time outdoors, try to participate in more activities with family and friends, and eat meals later than usual. Frequent changes in the schedule ‘confuses’ the biological clock and affect sleep quality.”
What can we do about summer insomnia?
If any of these issues are causing you to lose precious hours of restful sleep, Dr. Weiss says all you have to do is make a few, minor changes.
Stick to a schedule (as much as possible).
While summer days can be hectic, Dr. Weiss says we can benefit from some consistency. “Start by keeping a consistent schedule for meals, activity, and sleep,” she suggests. “It is okay to deviate a little on special occasions, but the more consistency, the better for the biological clock.”
Turn out the lights.
As bedtime rolls around, Dr. Weiss says it’s time to put down the devices. “Avoid exposure to bright light (either natural or electronic devices) at least one hour before bedtime,” she warns. “Use blackout curtains and a sleep mask to reduce lighting.”
Make your bedroom cool.
Dr. Weiss says you can get more rest if you turn the thermostat down. “Use a fan or air conditioning to reduce room temperature. Light-weighted sheets and blankets are helpful to keep the temperature low.” Check out some of our favorite cooling sheets and cooling comforters.
Take a warm shower.
And while you want to make your room cool, warm your body up first. “Interestingly, a warm shower is more effective than a cold one to support sleep,” Dr. Weiss notes. “This is because during a warm shower, the body temperature increases. As a result, right after the shower, the natural thermoregulation process will bring body temperature to a lower point. A decrease in body temperature gives a sleep signal to the brain.”
Make a bedtime routine.
Dr. Weiss says that since our routines in the summer aren’t always the same, it’s important to — at least — have some consistency at bedtime. “Aside from adjusting the sleep environment, it is important to remember that summer can be stressful,” she explains. For women with busy lives, doing a short meditation for sleep can make all the difference in getting a full nights rest. “New activities for the family and summer camp for kids may represent an extra workload for women. Create a bedtime routine, including a warm shower and meditation in a low-lit room.” These small acts can help you sleep better during the summer.
When is it time to see a doctor?
Dr. Weiss emphasizes that consistent sleep problems shouldn’t go unaddressed, and there are a few tell-tale signs that it’s time to see a doctor. She mentions two red flags to look out for. “The first is excessive daytime sleepiness. If you are likely to fall asleep while watching TV, driving, attending a webinar, during a conversation, or at work, you may be sleep-deprived.”
Another red flag is persistent insomnia. “Suppose you are having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up not feeling refreshed at least three times a week for a few weeks,” Dr. Weiss says. “In that case, you may have insomnia and need to see a sleep doctor.” So if you’re exhausted all the time or can’t seem to shake your sleep issues, be sure to talk to your GP.
We hope this insight has helped you understand how sleeping in the summer may be a little bit harder, but with a few simple tweaks, you can finally start getting the rest you need — and deserve!