Healthy living

Sleeping in very hot weather

During extreme heat waves, many people find it more difficult to get adequate sleep. Extreme heat can affect your ability to fall asleep, stay asleep and feel refreshed from sleep. It is important for your health to get the sleep you need, so below are a few ideas to help with sleeping.

Before going to bed
  • Have a cool or lukewarm shower or bath just before going to bed. This cools the body directly and can help reduce the temperature of your skin.
  • Wet your face and arms with a face-washer or towel, or use a water filled spray bottle, then stand in front of a fan.
  • Soak your feet in cold water for 10 minutes before going to bed, as heat is lost more quickly through your extremities (feet and head). Wetting your hair is another alternative.
  • Apply cool wet cloths, cold water or ice packs (armpits and groin for short periods) to the skin, as these areas are where your blood flows closest to the surface of your skin. This will help cool you down.
  • Apply wristbands soaked in cold water, as this will have the similar effect.
  • Remove excess clothing. Find out more about clothing to wear in the heat.
Things to avoid
  • Avoid exercising close to bed time, as it will increase your internal temperature. If you choose to exercise, exercise several hours before bed time to allow your body the opportunity to cool down.
  • Avoid excessive heat build-up during the day by reducing your activities.
  • Avoid hot, heavy or spicy food/meals, particularly near bedtime.
  • Also avoid chocolate or caffeinated drinks (tea, coffee, and energy drinks) in the late afternoon or evening, as these can keep you awake. Alcohol and caffeinated drinks increase dehydration and should be avoided.
Improving your sleep environment
  • Chose the coolest part of the house to sleep in if not your bedroom. A quiet, dark and cool area will improve your sleeping pattern.
  • Remove winter bedding and opt for lightweight, cotton blankets. Ideally, sleep with just a sheet over you.
  • If your pet sleeps with you and ‘warms up’ the bed, it may be time to find them a different place to sleep!
  • Stay indoors, if possible in an air-conditioned environment.
  • Use fans in an adequately ventilated area. Make sure the room you are in has an open door or window so fresh air can flow through the room.
Getting a good night sleep
  • Drink plenty of water during the day to keep your body hydrated and cool while you sleep. Dehydration is a common cause of not being able to get to sleep (insomnia). Keep a glass/insulated container of cold water by your bed in case you wake up hot and uncomfortable.
  • Try to maintain consistent sleep and wake times.
  • If you feel you need to have a nap, limit this to early afternoon and only for a short time.
  • When using a fan, have the bedroom door open to allow for airflow. Placing a tray of ice cubes in front of the fan will cool the air blown around the room
  • Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing, preferably made from natural fibres like cotton or linen that absorb sweat and allow the skin to breathe. Avoid synthetic fabrics.
  • If you need to have a sheet over you, try leaving your feet out of the sheet, as body heat will escape via your feet
  • Flipping your pillow over to the other side can help if you wake up hot.
  • Use distraction techniques, such as playing relaxing music, while you try to get to sleep (with a sleep timer on), watching television or reading a book.
  • Using a water spray mister on your face and body to create a fine mist can be cooling. If you wake up during the night, repeating this will also help.
  • If you decide to sleep outdoors because you cannot cool your house down, consider the need to protect yourself against mosquitoes and other insects.
  • Do not sleep in your car with the air-conditioner running when the car is not moving, as there may be a build-up of carbon dioxide which can be very dangerous.
Preparing for future hot weather and nights
  • Keep your home as cool as possible by drawing the shades, curtains and blinds during the hottest part of the day. Keep the windows closed.
  • Get your air-conditioner serviced early if it is not running effectively.
  • If you mainly use fans, ensure blades are dusted and cleaned as it will allow the fan to work more efficiently.
  • If you have acute or chronic medical conditions, talk to your doctor about the best ways to cool down during very hot weather.
  • If your doctor normally limits your fluids or you are on fluid tablets, you may need to check how much to drink in hot weather.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor
  • Visit a GP after hours
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222

Acknowledgements

WA Health, Disaster Preparedness Management Unit

SA Health, Government of South Australia

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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