Sleep better this summer | Top 10 tips for sleeping in a heatwave

With temperatures in the UK are set to soar again this summer, it’s never been more important to prepare for the onset of hot weather. When a heatwave strikes, millions of us report diminished sleep quality which can result in irritability, difficulty concentrating and a loss of productivity the following day.

This lack of good quality sleep has a huge impact on our health and wellbeing. While understanding the importance of sleep and how to fix this is important, you’re going to need some unique tips and tricks when the weather really heats up. 

If all this this sounds familiar, you’re in the right place. From sleep hygiene advice to tricks to get the most out of a cooling fan, we’ve put together a list of ten tips to help you sleep better during a heatwave. 

1. Avoid tossing and turning

Tossing and turning during the night is commonplace for many of us. Unfortunately, seriously hot weather only makes falling asleep harder. 

If you’re tossing and turning during the early hours, getting up and sitting in a different room can work wonders. 

We recommend laying on the sofa and reading a book for fifteen minutes before returning to bed. If you haven’t drifted off within fifteen minutes, repeat the process again.

Tossing and turning means in bed your brain starts to associate this space with negative emotions and behaviours. 

Getting up and going to sit in another room helps reinforce your bed as a place for sleep, not for restless agitation. For maximum benefit, pick a boring book and avoid using your mobile phone.

2. Change your style of bedding

Heavy winter bedding does you no favours during the summer. That same high tog duvet that keeps you nice and warm during the winter traps a tonne of heat, amplifying perspiration and restlessness during a heatwave.

If you regularly finding yourself clammy and sweaty under the covers, get yourself a second bedding set for summer. If you’re really struggling, opt for something ultra-light like a linen sheet. Swapping your duvet for a sheet helps lower your core temperature which helps us fall asleep quicker.

3. Take a lukewarm shower

Feeling alert and awake is the last thing you want before bed. Whilst taking an ice cold shower when you’re burning up during a heatwave sounds like a great idea, opt for a lukewarm one instead. 

A cold shower instantly stimulates the body, making it a great idea first thing in the morning. Take a lukewarm shower instead, as this gradually lowers our temperature for winding down before bed.

4. Avoid napping

Taking a siesta during the hottest part of the day is an appealing idea. Unfortunately, you’ll pay for it when you bed down later in the day. Napping can have a negative impact on our circadian rhythm (the biological functions that follow a 24 hour cycle), making it difficult to nod off at night.

If you do need to nap, make sure you do it as early in the day as possible to minimise this impact. Try to keep your nap short and sweet, as research shows a quick 15 – 20 minute nap prevents us feeling groggy when we wake up.

5. Exercise early

Exercise is a great way to tire ourselves out. However, getting a workout in during a heatwave brings a whole host of risk factors.

You need to prioritise hydration and minimise sun exposure, both of which are affected by the time at which you exercise.

Exercising in the morning means we avoid the worst of the sun and aren’t stimulating the body in the run up to bedtime.

Exercising early also means a huge dose of endorphins first thing to set you up for the day ahead.

6. Use ice to your advantage

There’s no end to the number of creative ways you can use ice during a heatwave. See a few of our favourites below:

  • Place a tray/box of ice underneath your fan to generate a cold air flow
  • Freeze a towel and put it underneath the blanket or sheet you sleep on
  • Put your sheet inside a bag and place it in the freezer for five minutes before bed. You can also do this with your pyjamas or a pillowcase
  • Freeze your hot water bottle
  • Place your feet in a bucket of ice-cold water during the evening. If you’re looking for relief right before bed, opt for a lukewarm shower instead. 

7. Stay positive

A lack of sleep can cause restlessness, irritability, anger and a loss of patience. Sleep loss makes it difficult to imagine you’ll ever sleep well again.

Whilst this period can be frustrating, it’s important to remember that a heatwave cannot last forever.

Try to envision this period as a temporary struggle that will pass, no matter how difficult that may seem in the moment.

If your sleep suffers all year round, click here for more information on available treatments.

8. Sleep on your side

Whilst it’s not for everyone, sleeping on your side exposes the front and back of the torso, freeing up additional surface area for heat to leave the body. If side sleeping doesn’t work for you, try freezing a towel and placing it underneath your sheet before you get into bed. 

This helps cool the back of the body without forcing a posture or position that doesn’t work for you.

9. Stay hydrated

The most obvious advice is often the most overlooked. The best way to stay hydrated during a heatwave is to sip an increased amount of water throughout the day. This means you don’t have to play catchup before bed.

Because we lose more salt, proteins and carbohydrates when we sweat, drinking an electrolyte drink is another great way to top up our vitamin and mineral levels.

10. Monitor the airflow in your bedroom

Cracking a window can negate all the hard work your fan is doing to circulate cool air around your bedroom. Depending on where you live, the air outside your room may be hotter than the air inside your room, meaning you’re actually making it harder to drift off.

Make sure your fan is placed in the corner of the room on a slow and consistent oscillation setting to avoid drying your eyes and mouth out during the night. To get the most out of your fan, place a tray or bucket of ice in front of it on a stool or chair. This creates a cool airflow that replicates the effect of an air-conditioning system.

If you haven’t found what you’re looking for here, take a look at our Sleep HUB for more information on sleep and insomnia.

Last updated Friday 7 July 2023

First published on Friday 7 July 2023