When you think of sleeping in a hot room — whether it’s due to high outdoor temperatures or simply an overheated indoor room — you think of tossing and turning. And there’s a good reason for that. Our discomfort during sleep at high temperatures is rooted in the interplay between our body’s thermoregulation system, the natural sleep cycle and environmental conditions. In fact, research in Frontiers in Digital Health found that high temperatures increase your odds of experiencing sleep trouble by as much as 54% — and researchers say humidity only worsens the problem. Here are some reasons why high temperatures can disrupt sleep:
- Body Temperature Regulation: During the course of a 24-hour period, our body temperature fluctuates. At night, as we approach bedtime, the body begins to cool down. This decrease in body temperature is one signal to the brain that it’s time to sleep. Elevated room temperatures (any temperature above 68 degrees Fahrenheit) can interfere with this natural drop in body temperature, which in turn makes it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Sleep Cycles and REM Sleep: Heat disrupts your slow wave sleep, the period in which your heart rate and breathings slows and your muscles relax, and your rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the stage of sleep in which you dream. The result: You wake up groggy and foggy rather than alert and energized.
- Increased Metabolic Rate: As the ambient temperature rises, the body has to work harder to try and cool itself down. This triggers a rise in your metabolic rate, which can lead to a heightened state of alertness which isn’t conducive to sleep
- Sweating and Discomfort: This is just plain old common sense: When we sweat when we’re sleeping, the sweat makes our bedding wet and uncomfortable. This discomfort can cause increased restlessness, leading to more frequent tossing and turning. This reduces the chances of getting continuous, restful sleep.
The benefits of a sound night’s sleep
A good night’s rest does more than just keep you energized. University of Arizona College of Medicine research found that regularly getting a good night’s rest reduces your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes by 32%. “Poor sleep is among the most common health issues physicians are asked to address, but most simply aren’t trained to help,” says W. Chris Winter, MD, owner of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine clinic and CNSM Consulting and author of The Sleep Solution. “Sleep affects every system and organ of the body and plays a crucial role in many health issues, including obesity and high blood pressure.”
Prescription sleep aids seem like a logical fix. But research in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease reveals that taking commonly-prescribed sleep meds such as sedative-hypnotics (Ambien), benzodiazepines (Halcion and Restoril ) and the antidepressant trazodone (Desyrel and Oleptro) more than five times a month can increase the odds of developing dementia by as much as 79% — and carry with them significant side effects. The downsides of sleeping medications like Ambien are also well documented.
How to sleep in the heat: The 6 best natural helpers
Ready to get the sweet, deep sleep your body craves — no matter how hot the room? We’ve rounded up the simplest, study-backed tips:.
1. Take a sunset stroll
A short ramble around the neighborhood can help you enjoy deeper, sounder sleep. A study published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science suggests that heading out for a 30-minute walk each evening reduces insomnia risk by 60%. What’s more, it nearly triples your ability to sleep in the heat with zero frustrating wake-ups. Study authors says it resets your body clock and helps you churn out sleep-deepening theta brain waves throughout the night.
2. Whip up a cherry juice spritzer
Tart cherry juice tastes oh so refreshing mixed with seltzer and ice. In a study conducted at Louisiana University, folks who drank two glasses of tart cherry juice daily slept 84 minutes longer within two weeks. Plus, they entered restorative REM sleep 33 minutes faster than those who didn’t drink the juice. Study authors explain that tart cherries and their juice are high in sleep-promoting tryptophan. Plus, tart cherry enzymes slow the breakdown of tryptophan to extend its soothing effects. (Cherries are good for more than just sleep. Click through to learn how tart cherry juice lowers high blood pressure.)
3. Take a warm bath (really!)
When you keep waking up twisted in your sheets on a hot night, quality sleep can feel as elusive as, well, a dream. And while you may think a cool bath before bed will bring down your temperature and usher in sleep, research reveals something counterintuitive. “A warm bath 90 minutes before bed may help you fall asleep faster,” reveals neurologist Brandon R. Peters, MD, author of Sleep Through Insomnia. “Your temperature dips afterward, easing you into sleep.” If a toasty dip doesn’t sound inviting, you can get the benefits with a tepid foot soak, as we regulate heat through our feet, Dr. Peters says. Why? Blood vessels in your feet connect to the entire body. And simply giving them a dunk kicks off a domino effect of cooling throughout your system.
4. Chill your pillow
Your body temperature naturally dips at night to induce and maintain sleep, but hot summer nights can impede this process. What can help: slipping a cooling gel pad in your pillowcase. British experts say a cooling pad triggers a temperature drop that significantly increases sleep efficiency (a measure of time spent sleeping versus being awake in bed) within four weeks. In fact, they found that sleep improved nearly twice as much in women who slept with cooling pillow pads compared to those who didn’t use the inserts. Tip: For a longer-lasting chill, pop the cooling pad in the fridge before bed. One to try: Aineeba Chill Pillow Cooling Pad Mat (Buy from Amazon.com, $16.99).
5. Set up an icy breeze
Sure, you have a fan aimed at your bed to create a breeze, but why not make that breeze a little chillier by setting up a simple bowl filled with ice directly in front of you little blower. That way, super cool air will reach you — at least during the first part of the night when heat causes the most disruption to your sleep cycle.
6. Create a ‘sleep cave’
Complete darkness is crucial to sound sleep. The snooze-inducing hormone melatonin only works if your eyes don’t see any light, says Dr. Winter. And late summer sunsets can make it difficult to achieve total darkness in your bedroom. The strategy he recommends to find out if stealth light is infiltrating your sleep: Close your blinds, shut the door, turn out the lights and put your hands in front of your face. “If you can see them, your room isn’t dark enough,” Dr. Winter notes.
Sleep medicine physician Valerie Cacho, MD, chief executive officer of Sleephoria.com, adds, “I recommend a sleep mask to block as much light as possible. Even the glow of a street lamp can disrupt melatonin.” In fact, research in Critical Care suggests sleep aids like an eye mask and noise-blocking earplugs helps you doze off up to 7 minutes faster. And a study in Sleep shows wearing a mask promotes the slow brain waves of deep sleep, improving sleep quality and memory. To reap heftier benefits, try a weighted mask. “Its gentle pressure is like a hug for the eyes, promoting the first stage of sleep,” says Dr. Cacho. One to try: YFONG Weighted Sleep Mask (Buy from Amazo.com, $13.59).
How to sleep in the heat: 4 additional smart moves
1. Bite into a burger
Or enjoy pork and beans. Purdue University research suggests that getting about 75 grams of protein from beef, pork and legumes (think kidney beans, black beans, peanuts and chickpeas) improves both the quantity and quality of sleep by 32% within 12 weeks. Plus, scientists found that fueling up on these foods lowered the number of poor sleepers in their study by 71%. Experts explain that amino acids in protein enhance the production of sleep-inducing hormones serotonin and melatonin. That makes sleeping in the summer heat a breeze.
2. Sip iced lemongrass tea
One of the most refreshing ways to sleep better in the heat? Drink a glass of lemongrass iced tea before bed. Icy-cool liquid lowers your body temperature by a few degrees to help stimulate the production of melatonin. And the brew’s citrusy aroma spurs the output of a compound called adenosine that triggers drowsiness, explain nutrition experts Mira Calton, CN, and Jayson Calton, PhD, authors of The Micronutrient Miracle. To make a batch of the sleep-enhancing brew, steep 4 lemongrass tea bags for 5 minutes, then chill in the refrigerator. Enjoy one cup nightly as part of you bedtime routine.
3. Snack on walnuts
Or sprinkle them over your ice cream sundae. Nibbling on a handful of walnuts daily (either with meals or as a hunger-taming snack) can add 58 minutes to your nightly slumber, suggests research in Mediators of Inflammation. The omega-3 fats in walnuts soak into brain cells to reset an out-of-sync body clock. That’s a common summertime blight, since late sunsets keep brain nerves energized late into the night.
4. Supplement with GABA
Short for gamma-aminobutyric acid, GABA is a natural chemical that helps the brain sync into sleep mode. Research in Food Science and Biotechnology found people who took 100 mg. of GABA 30 minutes before bed fell asleep 50% faster. What’s more, their nighttime awakenings dropped by 60% in a week. And while sleeping pills can cause next-day grogginess, GABA users reported feeling significantly more alert and refreshed than they did before supplementing. One to try: Superior Source GABA (Buy at iHerb.com, $11.15).
Click through for more ways to outsmart common sleep sappers:
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.
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