Heat, long days, noise and late nights with friends.
These are just some of the summertime conditions that can get in the way of a good night’s sleep, but there are solutions out there.
Dr. Katherine Rasmussen, the director of the behavioural sleep medicine program at the Centre for Sleep and Human Performance in Calgary said her work has identified several things about the summer that make sleeping difficult for some of her patients, and some techniques that can help.
Rasmussen said avoiding the light is very important for those who have trouble falling asleep. She explained that exposure to light suppresses the release of melatonin, a hormone which assists with getting to sleep; its secretion is increased in the dark. The light coming through windows from the earlier summer sunrises can disrupt circadian rhythms and so Rasmussen said restricting exposure to light using sleep masks or blackout blinds can prove helpful for both falling and staying asleep.
She said light from phones and other electronic devices is enough to inhibit the release of melatonin. She recommends avoiding looking at phone screens within two hours of bedtime; along with light from the screen, Rasmussen said many activities on phones, such as games and text message conversations are very activating to the brain.
Rasmussen added television watched outside the bedroom is a more passive activity that will affect sleep less than using a smartphone, but it is still better to unplug from technology and interact with loved ones.
— Centre for Sleep (@CentreforSleep) July 26, 2019
While making sleep a priority is important, Rasmussen said partaking in social activities, some of which may lead to a later bedtime, is important to overall health.
“Summer is also a time to come out and connect with your loved ones and to get engaged with the community,” she said.
Rasmussen said occasionally falling out of a sleep routine due to social activities or going on holiday is not a big problem in the short term, and people should not worry about losing some sleep in order to have a good time. To minimize the sleep lost after returning home from a stimulating evening activity such as a sporting event or concert, Rasmussen recommends breathing exercises or having a warm bath. She noted relaxation apps, many of which employ the sounds of nature, help some people relax and fall asleep.
Hot summer temperatures can create sleep difficulties in a number of ways. Rasmussen said windows that are opened to cool bedrooms that are not air-conditioned at night can allow more noise in, negatively affecting sleep, but this can be counteracted with earplugs or by playing soothing sounds at bedtime.
Melatonin levels rise with a fall in temperature so keeping a cooler environment is very helpful to a good night’s sleep. Rasmussen recommended installing bedroom air conditioning if possible or getting a cooling gel mattress topper.