“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.
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