Sleep Well This Summer, Part 1: Stay Cool

Hi all!  It’s getting powerful-warm out there now in most parts of the U.S., so today I’m starting a 3-part series on sleeping during the summer months.

People generally prefer sleeping in a dark, quiet, cool environment.  This can be a challenge in the summertime, when it’s sweltering at night, it’s light out late, and there’s always some loud party going on late near your home.

 

Today we’ll tackle the issue of the summer warmth.

Many of us recognize that it can be difficult to fall and stay asleep if it’s uncomfortably warm or hot in your bedroom.  The common-sense advice here is to do what you can to maintain a cool sleeping environment to the extent that you can, particularly during the first half of the night:  outside temperatures naturally continue to fall until just prior to dawn due to an increasing duration of absent direct sun exposure, and our bodies naturally cool (i.e., our core body temperatures gradually fall) the longer we sleep at night.  As such, it’s a good idea to concentrate on how comfortable you are with the room temperature at bedtime.

Some brief tips to sleep a little better in the summer:

1.  Use your air conditioner.  I understand the desire to save $ on your utility bills–I share that desire–but I suggest not skimping on the air conditioning (if you have it) if you’re miserable in bed night after night.

2.  Invest in a fan.  Large room fans can be inexpensive (particularly if purchased off-season), and the convective effect of the circulating air can make a big difference.

3.  Take a shower or bath prior to bedtime.  Using cool water may reduce your core body temperature.  For some, however, a warm shower or bath prior to bedtime makes your  bedroom temperature “feel” cooler by the time you get into bed.  Experiment to see what makes you most comfortable.

4.  Consider your bedsheets and pajamas.  This is very individually dependent, but you can obviously reduce the amount of body coverage in bed to cool things down.  The cloth materials you use can also make a difference:  you can be bothered by not only the heat, but also the degree to which you’re wet and sweaty in bed.  I suggest using materials that “breathe” and absorb or wick away moisture:  in general natural materials, like cotton, are considered better at this than synthetic.

5.  Sleep in the basement.  If you can’t do anything about the heat in your bedroom, migrating to a cool, dark underground basement may make all the difference during summer months.

6.  If you use CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) for obstructive sleep apnea, you can turn down your heated humidity and utilize as small a mask interface as possible.

Next up:  how to keep your bedroom dark.  This is more important than you may think.

Cheers all, and stay cool this summer!

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What’s With These Night Sweats?

Many of us have experienced it before, and some of us frequently:  awakening in the middle of the night drenched in sweat.  The bed sheets are soaked through; you feel this strange, uncomfortable sensation of being hot and cold at the same time.  You may need to take a shower to wash off all the mess.  WTH?

 

There are numerous potential reasons why you might sweat substantially at night.

1.  The room’s too hot.  It’s a painfully obvious cause, but a very common cause nonetheless.  Some couples disagree about how warm or cool the bedroom should be at night; you might be surprised by how often this problem occurs, and how bitter the disagreements can become.  In addition, many people simply “run hot” at night and prefer to sleep in a very cool, or even downright cold, environment.

2.  Infections.  A whole host of different viral, bacterial, and fungal organisms, most commonly causing upper respiratory tract infections and the flu, can cause fever and sweating.

3.  An underlying medical disorder.  Conditions that may be associated with night sweats would include certain cancers, thyroid problems and other endocrine abnormalities, a few neurologic disorders, and hypoglycemia related to diabetes medications.  Some medications, such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and some antidepressants, can also be associated with night sweats in and of themselves.

4.  An underlying sleep disorder.  Obstructive sleep apnea often causes “sympathetic overactivation,” triggering constant surges of adrenalin and other hormones in your bloodstream at night, leading to sweating.  The restlessness and physical activity associated with frequent arousals due to the breathing pauses also frequently contribute to the tendency toward night sweats.

5.  You are in or approaching the “change of life.”  Those hot flashes that accompany menopause can be very bothersome at night, potentially leading to substantial sleep disruption and in some cases chronic insomnia in women.

6.  Stress.  Increased sympathetic activity may also be to blame for an association between stress and sweating at night.

7.  You just sweat a lot, and it’s not clear why.  “Idiopathic hyperhydrosis” means that you simply sweat profusely, and diagnostic testing does not reveal a specific underlying medical reason for it.

What to do about the night sweats, then, depends in large part on the underlying cause(s).  Here are some general suggestions, however.

Sleep in a cool, comfortable, dark environment.  Use bedding materials and clothing that are comfortable and that don’t trap moisture.  See your physician if there is the potential for a concern for an underlying medical problem (weight loss, substantial fatigue, and fever, for example, should prompt you to consider medical attention).  Your primary care physician should be alerted to symptoms consistent with menopause.  If you snore loudly, gasp out of sleep, have witnessed breathing pauses during sleep, and feel tired and sleepy during the day, I would recommend seeing a doc like me, someone who specializes in sleep medicine.