It appears that the summer’s first heat wave has already come (and gone, for some), but that is no indication that super-hot nights aren’t still on the calendar over the coming weeks.
If you do not have household air conditioning or window or wall units, it can be extremely difficult to sleep during hot summer nights. However, your body needs to maintain a core temperature that’s normal to slightly less than normal for the circadian system to work most efficiently. That means keeping yourself as cool as you can at bedtime. (See also our forum discussion: How cold or warm is your bedroom?)
While no single tip we offer here is a foolproof solution for reducing room and body temperatures during a heat wave, you might find that when you put together several of these sleep hygiene solutions, you’ll achieve some comfort at bedtime during the next string of hot days that’s sure to come this summer.
Use cotton sheets; they are a better choice than polyester, satin or silk because they are breathable and promote ventilation.
Freeze a gel-filled eye mask and put it on at bedtime.
Stow you sheets in a plastic bag, then freeze them. Put them on right before you go to bed.
Keep your windows closed at night if the exterior of your house is warmer than the interior. Or, keep your windows open at night if the exterior of your house is cooler than the interior. This is where one of those digital indoor-outdoor thermometers comes in handy.
Use your hot water bottle or heatable buckwheat pack or pillow for cooling down: freeze water in the hot water bottle or tuck the buckwheat pack or pillow in the freezer.
Avoid alcoholic beverages, as they can have a warming effect on the body’s core temperature, and they can also disrupt sleep patterns.
If you have a shady side of the house, opening the windows on that side can help bring in cool morning air.
Remember that heat rises. Some people actually drag their mattress to the first floor or sleep on the couch to avoid stuffy upper floor bedrooms.
Invest in room darkening shades in your bedroom to deflect heat.
Depending upon your bedroom window’s exposure, you may wish to open your bedroom window during a cool shady morning, then close it before the sun strikes that side of the building.
Remove your blanket and replace with a sheet that you spritz with water. Keep the spritz bottle nearby to refresh the sheet (and your face) during the night.
Try this makeshift air conditioner: Set a shallow roasting pan full of ice in front of a fan, then turn on the fan. The fan’s breeze will be cool and mist-like.
Choose moisture wicking pajamas, if you can. Or try sleeping in the nude. Whatever is most comfortable for you matters most.
Avoid getting too much sun during the day; you’ll feel the radiance of burned skin while trying to sleep at night. Use cooling aloe on the skin at night before bed, even if you don’t have a sunburn; it can refresh the skin and cool it down.
Purchase herbal cooling towelettes or cold compresses and apply them to hot spots on your body (base of the neck, wrists, insides of elbows, around the groin, and behind the knees). Apply at pulse points on wrists and ankles, as well.
Use multiple fans to keep the air circulating, if you have them.
If you just can’t get enough quality sleep at night, plan for a nap in a cool space during the day until the heat wave passes so you don’t become sleep deprived.
Use a high-tech pillow known as a “chillow,” which is engineered to stay cool all night long.
Avoid swaddling infants and keep an eye on them; if they begin to breathe rapidly, sweat more than usual, have severe diaper or skin rash or extra-red faces, have them drink some water and get them to a cooler space.
Sleep alone; shared body heat is great in the winter, but not so great during a heat wave.
Keep all window treatments facing the south, east, or west closed to block out the sun, no matter what time of day. (This is for the northern hemisphere; for those “down under,” block sun coming from the north, east, or west.)
Pick a different place to sleep. Basements, ground floors, and indoor hammocks may all be better options for temporarily weathering a heat wave.
Open all the doors in your house to keep air circulating, unless you have rooms you wish to avoid and seal off.
Take a cold shower or bath right before bed. Getting your hair and head wet (without shampooing) can help reduce core body temperature.
Use your ceiling fan like a pro. Set the fan blades to spin counter-clockwise at a higher speed to push hot air down and create a wind-chill effect.
Worry less about room temperatures; worry more about body core temperatures. If you can keep your body temperature at normal, you have a much better chance of falling and staying asleep. The body needs to be at normal or slightly lower than normal temperature in order for the circadian rhythms to modulate sleep.
Keep the lights off. Radiant heat from light bulbs can increase the room’s temperature.
If you have built-in fans in your kitchen and/or bathroom, turn them on. They’ll help pull hot air up and away.
Hang a wet sheet over an open window, especially if there is a cross breeze. You may want to keep a spritz bottle filled with water nearby to keep it damp in the middle of the night.
If it’s breezy outside, use fans to accelerate and direct that breeze throughout your house.
Drink a tall glass of water right before bed. This can be a simple way to lower your body’s core temperature. Keep a pitcher of ice water nearby, just in case.
Keep down the household temperature by cooking everything either in the microwave or on the outdoor grill. Or, don’t eat food that needs to be cooked.
Wear a lightly soaked or frozen bandanna around your neck at bedtime.
Eat very light dinners that are easy to digest; the body generates less heat when it digests light foods such as fruits and vegetables.
Use a misting hand fan if you have one. Keep it at your bedside for quick cooling spritzes at night.
Soak your feet in a bucket of cold water right before bed. Keep the same bucket at bedside in case you need a fresh dunk after midnight.
If your house is hot and stuffy and you have a shady yard, you might want to simply sleep outside where the air is cooler and more likely to circulate.
As appealing as it may sound, do not sleep in a car while its motor is running! This can be dangerous, illegal, even fatal. Accidents can occur as well as carbon monoxide poisoning and damage to the vehicle itself.
Don’t have AC but know a loved one who does? Ask if you can crash at their place. They’ll understand.
If you cannot cool down, and you have a cooling center in your neighborhood, don’t be afraid to take advantage. People die from heat stroke every year during heat waves unnecessarily when they could have used the services of a cooling center.