Sleep more easily during the summer after a cold shower“Is it just me,” a reader wrote recently to Ask The Savvy Insomniac, “or do other people have more trouble with insomnia in the summer?

“I get in bed at the usual time but I’m not sleepy. I’m not worried about anything, I just can’t sleep. Then when the alarm goes off at 6 it feels like the middle of the night! I drag myself out of bed and drag around all day and it’s worse in this heat. But at night I still can’t sleep. It feels like I’m really messed up.”

It’s true that summertime can mess with sleep, especially in people inclined to have insomnia. But a few things can be done to ease the situation.

Adjust Your Exposure to Light

Light may be part of the problem. If you live in northern latitudes, you’re exposed to several more hours of daylight in the summer than in other seasons. Light in the evening delays the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy.

One solution is to wear dark glasses in the evening, especially if you’re going to spend time outdoors. Blocking the blue end of the light spectrum is particularly important. So wear amber sunglasses that filter out blue light. And keep indoor lighting low.

Cool Down

The other problem in the summer is the heat. If body temperature regulation is an issue for you (it’s an issue for many people with insomnia) and you don’t have air conditioning, here are a few ways to beat the heat at night:

  • Use a window fan. Position it so that it faces outside and can draw cool night air through the house. It’s an old-fashioned remedy, but now that my A/C is broken, I’m reminded again of how well it works. (I live in Michigan, where temperatures at night are dipping into the 60s.)
  • Sleep in the basement or lower level of the house
  • Take a long, cool shower before bedtime.

Paradoxical as it may sound, another way to cool yourself down enough to be ready for sleep at night is to heat your body up some four or five hours before you normally go to bed. Vigorous exercise or a hot bath late in the afternoon or early in the evening will do the trick. Heating of the body and brain triggers an internal cooling mechanism, sleep scientists Dennis McGinty and Ronald Szymusiak have written. By the time your bedtime rolls around, you may well be cool enough to sleep.

If these measures fail, another option may be available in the not-too-distant future. Sleep scientists at the University of Pittsburgh are experimenting now with plastic caps designed to cool insomniacs’ overactive brains down at night and so promote sleep.*

These cooling night caps sounded totally unappealing to me last winter. But now that the summer heat has arrived, I say, bring ‘em on!

If you have trouble sleeping in the summer, what have you found that helps?

* E.A. Nofzinger and D.J. Buysse, “Frontal Cerebral Thermal Transfer as a Treatment for Insomnia: A Dose-Ranging Study,” Sleep 34, abstract supplement(2011): A183

Posted by Lois Maharg, The Savvy Insomniac

Lois Maharg has worked with language for many years. She taught ESL, coauthored two textbooks, and then became a reporter, writing about health, education, government, Latino affairs, and food. Her lifelong struggle with insomnia and interest in investigative reporting motivated her to write a book, The Savvy Insomniac: A Personal Journey through Science to Better Sleep. She now freelances as an editor and copy writer at On the Mark Editing.

4 Comments

  1. I’m searching for answers right now. This has been going on for years — I don’t sleep at all well in the summertime. After reading this article, I’m going to buy some more sunglasses in amber — anything to try to help. Unfortunately, an arthritic knee prevents vigorous exercise but it sounds good. Oh well.

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    1. Hi Carla,

      As it happens, I just posted an article from the New York Times on my Facebook page that might interest you:

      http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/04/07/can-orange-glasses-help-you-sleep-better/?_r=0

      If your sleep goes off in the summertime, it has to be because of the increased light exposure or the heat. Using amber glasses might help you out.

      Regarding exercise, I, too, developed a knee problem a couple years ago. I was totally bummed out, because it meant that I could no longer exercise on my elliptical trainer or my bike–at least for several months and maybe longer. So 2 years ago I started swimming laps for aerobic exercise. It wasn’t my first choice of an exercise–far from it. But now I do it twice or 3 times a week.

      Here’s the blog I wrote about that:

      https://thesavvyinsomniac.com/insomnia-and-me-squaring-off-in-middle-age/

      All best in your efforts to sleep well in the months ahead.

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      Reply

  2. How can I obtain one of those plastic caps that cool the overactive area of the brain please? Is there another effective way to cool the brain? How long does it need to be cooled? thanks

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    1. Hi Lisa,

      The plastic caps are not yet on the market, and I can’t find any information about if and when they will be available. When I spoke to one of the inventors 4 years ago, he said they might be available in a couple of years. But here it is 4 years later and still no word about them.

      He did say, though, that insomnia patients who were testing the cap out reported that it felt soothing, similar to a cool washcloth placed on the forehead. Anything cool on the forehead might, at least in theory, have the same effect. As to how long the cooling should last, I can’t answer that question. The unique thing about these caps is that they would allow for a cooling effect all night.

      If and when they do become available, I’ll spread the word right away.

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      Reply

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