In the throes of a summer heatwave, getting a restful night’s sleep can feel like an impossible task. However, recent research has provided us with effective strategies to combat this struggle. Let’s delve into the science-backed ways to find out how to get the best night’s sleep possible during a heatwave.

The impact of heatwaves on our sleep

how does heat affect our sleep

Usually, heat can be a nice relaxing way to get your body ready to go to bed. Think of bubble baths, hot water bottles, cosy socks…it’s all about the heat. They increase slow wave sleep, otherwise known as deep sleep. However, heat is typically beneficial only when it’s a precursor to sleep, not while you sleep. So when you room is a stifling 30°C, that’s not exactly the warm up (excuse the pun) to a good night’s rest. A study by Okamoto-Mizuno and co (1999) found that hotter bedroom temperatures decreased REM and increased wakefulness!

Moreover, heatwaves in the UK don’t actually build up slowly. Our bodies are generally used to grey and rain and cloud more than sunshine and blue skies. So when the weather suddenly jolts us, we’re not well equipped or acclimatised to deal with it. Hence, the sleep deprivation. But, recent research has found a way to change all this.

What does research say?

For a rapid cooldown, nothing quite matches the efficiency and effectiveness of forced ventilation, a go-to strategy in emergency services and the military. Picture a fan blowing directly on your skin, accelerating sweat production and evaporation by enhancing convection – it’s a power-packed combo that quickly cuts down body heat (Jay et al., 2021).

But if you’re outside of an emergency context, a slow-spinning ceiling fan overnight could do the trick. It’s a solid strategy to consider, especially during those hot, sticky nights (Kravchenko et al., 2013)

More recent research by Altena and co. (2023) used Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to identify the best ways to get a good sleep during heatwaves. They used CBT because it’s considered one of the best ways to help insomnia and induce restfulness. See their recommendations below:

12 tips on how to get the best night’s sleep during a heatwave

ceiling fan how to get a good night's sleep in a heatwave

1. Set your bedroom temperature

Keep your bedroom’s temperature at a snug 19°C if possible, or within a cosy 20-25°C range. Beware, though – anything above 25°C could play havoc with your sleep!

2. Take a cool shower before bed

When heatwaves amp up the temperature, a cool or lukewarm shower before bed (not cold, mind you) could be your ticket to dreamland, helping you shake off the heat-induced stress. An alternative? Dip your feet into a lukewarm bath – it’s a charm!

3. Use a ventilator

Ventilators can be your bedtime pals to bring the heat down in your room. Air conditioning? Use it wisely. It can chill down your room in a jiffy, but temperatures below 17°C might end up causing more sleep disruption. Here’s a fun fact – electric fans eat up 50 times less electricity than air conditioning. Considering the climate change crisis and individual economic situations, we should prioritise lower energy consumption. Keep the power-hungry devices as your last resort.

4. Keep a spritz near you

During those sizzling nights, you can shorten your heat-induced awakenings with a spritz or mist of water, but the jury’s still out on its full benefits, so more research is needed (Jay et al., 2021).

5. Hydrate throughout the day

drink more water in the heat

Remember to hydrate generously throughout the day for better temperature regulation when the stars come out. When there are no respite periods from the heat, day or night, do your best to keep your house and bedroom as cool and dark as possible, all day long.

6. Open doors and windows at the RIGHT time

Cool breeze during the day? Open those windows and doors wide before you hit the sack. When temperatures climb, shut your bedroom down to keep it cool.

7. Use cotton materials

Choose light, airy cotton clothing over other materials and limit the layers. And if you had a restless night, resist the urge to hit the hay early the next day – wait till sleepiness comes knocking.

8. Take a day nap

cat nap

On sweltering days, a short nap (about 20 minutes) could work wonders, but try to catch those z’s before 2 p.m. Make your sleep-wake rhythm a dance to follow – quality and continuity of sleep can beat the total hours you clock in.

9. Do your work outside of the bedroom

Avoid transforming your bed into a multipurpose platform. It’s not a couch, a study, or a lounge – it’s your place of rest. If sleep is playing hard to get, create a ‘reading corner’ in your place with your favourite reading materials and only hit the sack when sleepiness engulfs you.

10. Avoid alcohol

A frosty beer on a summer night can be tempting, but remember, alcohol can rob you of deep sleep, leaving you tired and fatigued the next day. It also ups your night-time sweating and dehydrates you. So, handle it with care during heatwaves and try to steer clear of smoking. If you need tips on staying sober around mates keep reading here.

11. Exercise in the morning

Physical activity early in the morning, when it’s still refreshingly cool, could help combat daytime fatigue and keep your sleep/wake rhythm grooving.

12. If all else fails, make the most of the morning

On summer nights, you might find yourself waking up early. If that happens, embrace the day and avoid lounging in bed. Use the extra morning time for a walk, a book, or simply enjoying the cool morning air from your open window or balcony. You could always get ahead with dissertation reading to get it out of the way in the mornings and enjoy the main part of summer.

It’s difficult to sleep during a heatwave for many reasons, but knowing how to do it with tweaks to the environment and lifestyle can help.