Can’t Sleep in the Summer? Here’s What to Do

Sunshine and warm weather are a boost to the spirit after a long, hard winter. But they may not do much for your sleep. In fact, if you’re sensitive to light and heat, long days and warm nights can be a setup for insomnia.

Here’s how to get more sleep as we move into June and July.

Insomnia may show up in the summer with longer days and hotter nightsSunshine and warm weather are a boost to the spirit after a long, hard winter. But they may not do much for your sleep. In fact, if you’re sensitive to light and heat, long days and warm nights can be a setup for insomnia.

Here’s how to get more sleep as we move into June and July.

 

Manage Your Exposure to Light

For people who live in northern latitudes, the daily dose of sunlight at the approach of the summer solstice is nearly double what it is at the winter solstice. Extra bright light in the morning may not be a problem. In fact, it can help synchronize circadian rhythms and give you the same lift as a cup of coffee. (If sunlight wakes you up too early, install light-blocking curtains on your bedroom windows.)

But daylight that extends past 9 and 10 p.m. can delay secretion of the hormone melatonin, postponing the onset of sleep. If you go to bed at your normal bedtime, you can’t sleep. You toss and turn rather than quickly drifting off.

Manage summer insomnia by cutting down on your exposure to bright light in the evening and at night:

  • Wear sunglasses when you’re outside
  • Draw shades and curtains around 8:30 p.m., and lower the lights in your home.
  • Sign off devices with screens an hour or 2 before bedtime, or wear blue light-blocking glasses
  • Put red lightbulbs in nightlights. (While exposure to white light at night may affect your sleep, exposure to red light likely will not.)

Cool Down

Heat can be a factor in summertime insomnia. Research shows that people tend to sleep more readily when their core body temperature is falling, and that extreme ambient heat may interfere with the internal cooling process that normally occurs at night. The ideal room temperature for sleep is a little bit lower than is comfortable with during the daytime, so to get more sleep in the summer,

  • Keep your shades drawn to block out heat from the sun.
  • Use air conditioning and fans to lower the temperature of your bedroom.
  • If air conditioning and fans are unavailable, consider sleeping in a lower level of your home.

There are other ways to facilitate internal heat loss and cool down. Research shows—paradoxically—that engaging in activities that increase skin temperature actually help to cool you down. Warming the skin hastens internal heat loss by dilating blood vessels close to the skin. This allows for the swift release of body heat and a lowering of core body temperature, in turn promoting sleep. So a few hours before you normally go to bed,

At times when you can’t do much of anything in the evening or control the ambient temperature (say you’re driving across country and the air conditioning is broken in the only motel room available at 10 p.m.), take a cool shower before hopping into bed and lie down with a cool washcloth on your forehead.

 

Seeing Red at Night

Results of a new study suggest that the color of the light you’re exposed to at night (think about the night light in your bathroom) can make a difference in how you sleep.

nightlightGoing away on vacation reminds me of all the ways my house is set up to help me steer clear of insomnia. Take the lighting situation at night. Even a 4-watt nightlight can put the kibosh on my sleep. So the nightlight in our bathroom is covered on two sides with black tape. I keep a small flashlight by my bed for use when I need to prowl around the house.

But I misplaced my flashlight one night up in northern Michigan, creating a tricky situation when I woke up needing to go to the bathroom. I decided to take a chance on feeling my way to the throne . . . only to slam into a wall. Nix to that!

But turning on the light was no better option. I shielded my eyes, but the fluorescent lighting flooded every nook and cranny of the bathroom and woke me up so completely that it took at least 45 minutes to fall back to sleep.

Better Lighting at Night

When you’re away from home, a small flashlight is probably all you need to get yourself to the bathroom and back with a minimum of arousal. At home, you can take other steps to assure that lighting has little impact on your sleep, and results of a new study, previewed in the blog Science20.com, suggest that the color of light at night can make a difference.

In this experiment conducted by researchers affiliated with The Ohio State University, white and blue light at night had negative effects on the behavior of female hamsters, and reduced the density of hair-like growths on brain cells that transmit chemical messages from one cell to another. Exposure to red light at night, on the other hand, had much less impact on the hamsters’ brains and behavior.

Red Light for Humans

These results may be applicable to humans, the study authors say. Red light in offices may be beneficial to night shift workers, and it may be less disturbing to hospital patients to be awakened to red light rather than white light at night. Red light may also be helpful in the home.

“If you need a nightlight in the bathroom or bedroom,” said co-author Tracy Bedrosian, “it may be better to have one that gives off red light rather than white light.”

This makes perfect sense to me. I hear a lot about how exposure to white and blue light blocks the secretion of melatonin and can delay the timing of sleep. But there’s never any mention of red light—which may be an even better answer to my home lighting needs than a nightlight covered with black tape.

What kinds of light seem to affect your sleep? Have you done anything to reduce your exposure to light at night?